The Plumed Princess of O’Brien Store

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: June 15, 2015
AT THE O’Brien Pet Foods and Supply store, you will find gecko lizards, goldfish, hamsters, ferrets, budgies and finches, along with all kinds of pet accessories and, of course, pet food. But there is something that isn’t for sale: Princess, the store’s African Grey parrot who endearingly walks up to you and tries to nibble on your shoes, especially if you are a guy. Princess is as much of a store fixture as the furniture and the till. O’Brien is its home and its refuge, a place she has never left since she was born 32 years ago.  Her claim on the place is older than that of the present owner, Lori O’Brien, for whom Princess came as part of the store sale. 
“The store won’t be the same without her. She’s part of the store, and she is here to stay,” says O’Brien. When O’Brien bought the store in 1994, Princess was already a store fixture, having been bought by previous owners, Norma and Rod. When they sold the store to O’Brien, there was no debate about what would happen to Princess. It was a given that she would stay in the store and so has it been for 21 years. Princess gets a chance to occasionally venture out, but most of the time she is at home in the store.
 After her original owners left, Princess took some time to warm up to O’Brien. But over the years, their bond grew as O’Brien fed and cleaned Princess who reciprocated the love. But when she gets angry, Princess isn’t shy in letting her displeasure known. “She likes me but she gives me a little nip when she is upset,” says O’Brien.
Princess picks whomever she likes, and there is no way you can force her to like you. If she doesn’t like you, she will convey the feeling with her beak. As a general rule, O’Brien says, Princess has an intuitive sense of gender and likes men more than women but her affection isn’t shared equally. She is partial to some men like Steve Latta of Outward Hound Squamish, whom she will run over to meet and follow around the store.
  There are times when she will spread that love to women as well. She is quite fond of one O’Brien employee in particular. Princess will stand up when she sees Kaitlyn and will allow her to pick her up and trim her nails. Princess also shared that same bond with O’Brien daughter, Samantha, who even took Princess on car rides.  “Both have strong personalities, and Princess really didn’t have much choice,” jokes O’Brien. Princess is now slowly getting used to Sierra Wadsworth, another employee at the store.
 Princess isn’t the only pet O’Brien owns. She has a fish, a frog, two dogs and two finches. In the past, she has owned rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, hedgehogs, budgies and love birds. Even though Princess is very much a part of her life, O’Brien would caution you against getting a parrot. “I’d never own a parrot,” she says, pointing to the signs of destruction caused by Princess. “She rips open bags, chips away at cords, puts holes in the bags and rips open books that I have to then glue back again,” she says as Princess happily looks on.
 And yet, O’Brien wouldn’t like to come back to a Princess-less store. “She came with the store and she is part of it now. Kids have grown up and have brought their own kids to show them Princess. The store won’t be the same without her,” says Lori.  Princess unwittingly compensates for her destructive streak by helping the store pull in more business. A lot of people come especially to see her and sometimes end up making unplanned purchases. People like to bring their kids to show the parrot they liked to come see as a kid. If they are lucky, they might be able to hear Princess talk.
 African Greys have the cognitive ability of a five-year old and can build a large vocabulary and have an uncanny ability to mimic speech along with a well-developed memory and the ability to distinguish a large number of voices.
Princess can whistle, mimic a car alarm, phone bells, and people laughing and sneezing. She can mimic different voices and likes to whistle tune from the Star Wars and The Addams Family. The most famous African Gray Parrot was Alex and belonged to Dr. Pepperberg, an animal psychologist. Alex could identify more than 100 actions, colors and objects. African Grey parrot is an intelligent companion bird but keeping it as a pet is a responsibility, say O’Brien. African Greys can live up to 70 years and require a lot of social stimulus. “If you keep them, you really have look after them,” she says.


  1. tjay says:

    Those birds are so neat. I always enjoy them.

  2. Bob and Alice Silvester says:

    We have been in the store many times and enjoyed Princess’s antics. We were also impressed with the friendly staff and wide range of products.