BRIDGEPORT — On paper, Samie Kennedy and Zilla have a typical owner-pet relationship.
Kennedy leashes Zilla for the duo’s long walks. He added special furniture in his apartment to fit Zilla’s needs. And Kennedy calls Zilla “one of my best friends.”
But Zilla is no ordinary domestic animal. The 5-year-old is a red iguana has become quite the local celebrity, stopping onlookers on foot, bike and cars dead in their tracks as he strolls with Kennedy around the community.
The cold-blooded reptile, named after the legendary Japanese movie monster Godzilla, warmed his owner’s heart from the moment they met in 2007. Kennedy wanted an iguana after watching one smoke a joint during a Cheech and Chong movie.
“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Kennedy, as Zilla perched on his shoulder and licked his face.
Kennedy has owned Zilla, who’s a bit longer than 4 feet and weighs about 9 pounds, since he was a baby. He picked up Zilla for free when a local pet store went out of business.
Ever since, there are few places Kennedy journeys without his iguana. When the duo take walks, Kennedy leashes him and straps a harness that mimics a black biker’s vest because he wants Zilla “to look real cool.” Zilla also frequently dangles on his master’s shoulder when he rides his bicycle to Lake Michigan.
“Zilla likes to swim, but by the time we get home, it takes hours because everyone wants to take pictures with him,” Kennedy said. “I can pull chicks because of Zilla if I wanted to, but I’m happily married.”
Kennedy, a die-hard Blackhawks fan, said his pet also likes to watch the team’s games with him. He even made Zilla a tiny Hawks jersey, and he said he hopes to sneak the lizard into one of the team’s games this season.
A favorite hangout for Zilla is the Bridgeport Coffee Company at 31st and Morgan streets — across the street from Kennedy’s apartment.
Gawkers constantly approached Kennedy and Zilla outside the coffeehouse, and several customers, including Tauna Kruse, asked Kennedy for a picture with the lizard.
“Oh my God! It’s so cool!” Kruse said. “I used to own a snake, and ever since then I fell in love with reptiles. They’re very smart.”
Later, a car on 31st Street made an abrupt stop.
"Hey! What's your dog’s name?" the driver yelled before he laughed and zipped away. A cyclist then almost crashed into a garbage can after doing a double take of Zilla.
“I get that attention all the time,” Kennedy said.
But not everyone is a fan of the iguana. One coffee shop customer said there “was no damn way I’m touching him.”
Last year Kennedy and Zilla made a pit stop to a nearby Family Dollar, only to be kicked out by an angry store manager, who didn’t want any pets in the store.
Kennedy’s wife, Toni, said she didn’t “care for him at all.”
“As long as we keep our distance, we’ll be fine,” she said.
Iguanas love hot weather and winter in the Windy City is never easy, so Kennedy, despite his wife’s protests, dedicated a full bedroom to his best friend. It resembles his natural habitat: tree branches, forest sounds and a constant temperature above 80.
Kennedy said it cost about $200 a year to pamper Zilla, who relished munching on fruits and veggies. On occasion, he'll eat scrambled eggs, but no meat. His owner doesn't want him to taste blood because he fears Zilla will turn aggressive.
The exotic lizards can be feisty during mating season, which lasts up to 30 days. When Zilla gets ready to show off, he does a crazy dance: head-banging, shaking his tail and flaring his dewlap (the piece of skin underneath his neck).
Zilla’s flashing his moves to the lady iguanas — in the wild, one male could mate with as many as 18 females — although there aren’t any around for now.
That could change soon, as Kennedy said he planned to buy two female iguanas to add to his unique pet showcase.
"It's unique having an iguana,” Kennedy said. “I want to be different.”