Overall, shop owners in Burbank have given me a warm welcome as I peruse their wares. So when the “owner” of Burbank Pet Plaza woke up from his nap to leer at me from the window, I thought, “What’s this guy’s problem?”
It turns out, he only likes people to think he’s a crank — it’s all an act.
I wandered into the pet shop on Alameda last week to meet Kobe, the 12-year-old black cat who takes his customary position napping in the storefront’s furniture. Along with 10-year-old Pixie, another black cat who prefers the action of the cash register, they own the joint in every sense of the word.
“It’s their place for sure,” said assistant manager Danielle Conklin. “What we don’t give them, they steal during the night.”
There’s a third resident of the Pet Plaza who is largely ignored by the cats. To make up for lost time, Romeo, a green parrot, yells “Hello” constantly while swinging on a toy across his cage.
“We like to joke that he has us trained because he gets us to talk more than we get him to,” Conklin said.
The stars of the shop clearly are Kobe and Pixie, two rescue cats who came to the shop the same way as all the other kittens who take up residence in the store. While not operating as an official animal rescue, Burbank Pet Plaza takes in kittens from surrounding towns because the Burbank Animal Shelter only accepts them from within the city limits. In the summers, Pet Plaza will adopt out anywhere from 200 to 300 kittens.
Kobe was so small when he was rescued that he had to be bottle fed. The store manager at the time was a big Lakers fan, and the name stuck. While Kobe Bryant might be known for dunks and layups, this Kobe does better with snacks and lying around.
Pixie was added to the mix because of all the kittens to come through the store, she was the only one that Kobe ever took a shine to. On this sunny afternoon she “helped” employees run the cash register when she wasn’t napping in her $80 heated bed.
Conklin says Pixie is a bit of a princess.
“It’s really fun when you’re on the phone with a customer and she hangs it up,” Conklin laughed.
The duo has its own fan base — former neighbors often stop by the store when they’re in town for a visit, and one regular visits Kobe every weekend because he can’t have his own pet in his apartment.
The two felines have also rubbed shoulders with celebrities over the years — Shia LaBeouf used to visit the store often when he worked on nearby Disney’s Even Stevens, Conklin said.
It’s not like they don’t earn their keep — each new type of cat food and treat is rigorously tested by Kobe and Pixie before it’s sold to customers. They also are the furry, if somewhat aloof, welcoming committee for store visitors. Pixie has been known to try to leave in customers’ purses, and Kobe is glad to accept tummy rubs from visitors at any time.
As I left the store, I got that crook-eyed look again.
“This is my store; thanks for visiting,” he seemed to say. “Now pet me, pet me, pet me.”
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant to Burbank. When he’s not trying to interview subjects who don’t have opposable thumbs, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.