When a service parrot discovered his wings and flew the coop, one family was left distraught. Thanks to the help of friendly neighbors, Queso the Parrot and a boy with autism that he supports were reunited after a stressful few days.

Erica Peña-Vest and her husband, Ryan, live in Tiverton, MA with their two sons. Ryan is a commander in the U.S. Navy, and as an active military family, the Vests have moved several times over the years, with their latest trip landing them in Tiverton. Their son Andrew is a 12-year-old with autism, and he spent the first five years of his life as nonverbal. When someone suggested a service dog to help Andrew, the Vests jumped on the idea. Unfortunately, the dog didn’t pass the proper tests, so the family gained a pet instead.

Last year, Erica’s mother was in hospice, and the family decided to buy a parrot to keep her mother company – but as soon as they got into the vehicle, the parrot attached himself to Andrew, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

While a parrot isn’t typically a service animal, “Sometimes, the animal chooses you,” said Peña-Vest. She watched her son begin to thrive thanks to his new pal.

She was heartbroken on Sunday when Queso, the white-bellied Caique parrot, flew out the door and didn’t come back. Queso’s wings were clipped at birth, but the wings grew back, and Queso quickly discovered he could fly.

“We always have him outside in the backyard or go on walks with him on our shoulders, but this time, he hopped out of the screen door and went a little too far,” Peña-Vest said.

Her son was devastated, but hopeful, as Erica enlisted the help of the community to find Queso. She did everything from posting online to calling the fire department when she finally got a call on Tuesday that a family in Westport had Queso in their backyard.

Mom and son quickly went to the home in Westport, where the DeMello family happily turned over Queso to the rightful owner. The DeMello family turned down the reward, so Erica decided to donate the money to Foster Parrots, LLC.

“We will never forget this community’s kindness,” said Peña-Vest. “The snacks, the searches, the friendship offered have been something we will talk about forever and never forget. What a blessing to live in a community like Tiverton.”

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