An uppity feline, Kugel favors tomato soup, salsa, fresh turkey, and Middle Eastern specialties like hummus and tzatziki. “He’s also a total cheese snob,” says Levine, 28, a psychology student getting her master’s at Antioch University. “He won’t go near anything but the best.” Spoiling their pet is this couple’s favorite hobby. Why? Because “he defies every cat stereotype,” says Sones, a 28-year-old video game designer. Kugel likes the water (he jumps into showers) and relishes supposed punishment (squirt guns don’t rattle him) when he leaps onto kitchen counters. “He just blows it off.”
Origin of name: From the dish served on Jewish holidays; the sitcom Punky Brewster, whose lead character’s spunk was not unlike that of someone who pounces on laptops; from the Sones family’s Latvian surname before it was changed on Ellis Island; after Alyssa.
Best trick: Disguising himself with cardboard boxes to creep about.
Favorite musical artist: Chris Martin from Coldplay, “because he sounds like a cat whining,” says Sones.
It began by exchanging pleasantries over the counter at Burbank Scales ’N’ Tails, where Jawiche works. Several snake hatchlings and text messages later, she and Villareal developed a hobby-based friendship as binding as an Ouroboros. “I try to get close to anyone who has reptiles, because they’re my life,” says Jawiche, 23, an amateur breeder whose guest bedroom houses more than 150 boas. Amazing, considering that three-year-old Cujo, a Burmese python that’s now 13 feet long, was her first snake. “They’re really prolific in captivity,” says Villareal, 19, an aviator-in-training whose “trust fund” (he’s kidding) fell mercy to his reptile obsession. In addition to TJ, a ten-inch bearded dragon, he owns six leopard geckos and a green tree python named Colonel Mustard.
Pet peeve: The two friends have been protesting Senate Bill 373, which originally would have banned ownership of pythons (but has been modified to single out only certain species).
Cherished pastimes: Cujo models for Armani; TJ flies cross-country in coach.
Nicknames: Mommaz (Cujo), Spaztronic (TJ).
Yummy snack: Ten-pound rabbit (Cujo), cockroaches (TJ).
Manolo may be a teacup Chihuahua, but there’s nothing mini about the figure he cuts as he moves through the world. When Stella Metsovas, a 32-year-old nutritionist, takes Manolo and her other dog, a 130-pound Staffordshire terrier named Apollo, out for their daily walk, it’s clear who’s in charge. Apollo “follows in the back and will not dare step even near him,” says Metsovas, describing Manolo’s fearsomeness. “True to form, he’s a little pimp.” So why not celebrate that? Recently, when she returned from a trip to Greece, he greeted her at LAX in a white faux-fur coat and shades—an ensemble put together by Metsovas’s mom, who calls Manolo “King of the Household.”
Favorite team: The Lakers (he owns a team jacket, size extra small).
Preferred scent: Big Dawg by Pepper & Tanky.
Favorite recreation: Sunbathing in 20-minute intervals.
In his closet: Fifteen outfits, including a Chinese brocade coat, board shorts, and luau wear. Nickname: Malaka, Greek slang for “jerk.”
Briggs, 57, owns Yoga at the Village in Glendale. She also volunteers to teach chair yoga to residents of assisted living facilities. At one she found Pinot, a maroon-bellied green cheek conure who had been left behind in a perforated shoe box when his owner passed away. His feet had atrophied. Briggs was undaunted. “I had hand fed and raised so many birds, I knew how to nurse Pinot back,” she says, recalling how she massaged warm almond oil on his toes. “He’s been on my shoulder ever since.”
How he relaxes: Briggs says she’s taught Pinot—one of 11 birds she owns—asanas such as the eagle and tree poses.
Favorite diversions: Pinot likes to sip a 2000 Carlton Hill, the pinot noir from western Oregon, and to whistle Beatles tunes.
Day job: Pinot doubles as a piece of jewelry, according to Briggs. “Instead of a brooch,” she says, watching her chipper adornment preen itself, “I have a bird.”
Photographs by Dustin Snipes