Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Date: September 23, 1983
The Ascolillos met their pet, Elliott, in an unusual way. The year was 1982. One chilly autumn day in Boston, Massachusetts, Ed and Irene Ascolillo watched with delight as a blue-fronted Amazon parrot flitted among the fall leaves near their house. A parrot roaming free in the city of Boston was a surprising sight, and the entire Ascolillo family watched its every move. Seven-year-old Eddie Jr. and six-year-old Michael joined their parents in trying to catch the elusive parrot, enjoying diving and swooping after the beautiful bird. Each time they thought they had grabbed him, they ended with a handful of air. The bird just wouldn't be caught. This reminded the boys of their favorite movie, E.T., and so they soon began calling the parrot "Elliott."
The Ascolillos never gave up. They left birdseed on a blanket outside their door and would often watch silently as their feathered friend munched happily. But before they could reach out to capture him, off he would fly, leaving Ed and Irene flustered but smiling.
One icy December evening, so cold that the entire neighborhood stayed bundled up inside the warmth of their homes, the Ascolillo family discovered their precious parrot frozen still on the blanket. Gently, they lifted him inside. This time, Elliott did not protest or try to escape. He looked hurt and hungry but not too scared. He seemed to sense that these people would help him. And he was right.
After a visit with the veterinarian, they discovered that Elliott's feet were frostbitten. They were so bad that he soon lost all of his toes and had only stumps for feet. But the bird was alive and, other than his feet, seemed just fine. He was adopted by the Ascolillos and was soon a part of the family. Often, when a bird is brought indoors to live, its wings are clipped, or trimmed, so he doesn't fly around and hurt himself. Ed and Irene knew it was difficult for Elliott to walk, so they decided to leave his wings alone and allow him to fly whenever he wanted.
Elliott was given his own room on the second floor of the house, next to the boys' bedroom, and he settled in to his new life quickly and easily. Elliott was an Ascolillo now, and he sure seemed to like it. As time went by, the family grew closer to him, and although Elliott never did learn to actually talk as some parrots do, he could communicate with the family and they with him. It was just about a year after the Ascolillos first discovered Elliott flying around their home that his ability to communicate was put to the test. And his passing the test meant life or death for the Ascolillo family.
September 23, 1983 was the busiest night in the history of the Boston Fire Department. A major water-main break in the section of town where the Ascolillos lived kept fire fighters jumping all night. The break caused a gas regulator to stop working, which flooded the whole neighborhood's gas system with a surge of gas. The kind of gas, used to heat homes and light stoves, was now flowing uncontrollably through the Ascolillos' neighborhood. The gas was very flammable, which means it could catch fire easily. With this kind of major gas leak, the entire neighborhood--complete with houses and people-could be sky-high at any moment.
Police and fire fighters were on the scene immediately, driving through the streets and waking people up with announcements over their loudspeakers. The neighbors were warned to turn off their gas and not to turn on the lights. They were told to get out of their homes right away. The streets were soon filling with sleepy but scared families.
Down on the block, Ed and Irene were sleeping soundly and comfortably in their third-floor bedroom. On the floor below, Eddie Jr. and Michael were also fast asleep, dreaming peacefully. They had no idea what danger was in their own home. They could not hear the police announcements. They did not know that if they stayed asleep, they might never wake up.
Elliott, however, was very much awake. Soaring into action, the bird was about to save his newfound family, just as they had saved him from death only a year before. Elliott flapped his wings mightily as he raced from his second-floor room, up the stairs to the third-floor bedroom of Ed and Irene. Although the bird had never ventured upstairs, he seemed to know exactly where to go and what to do. Elliott tried desperately to wake the sleeping couple. And though he had never been able to talk, he did begin to make screeching and squawking noises in a cry for help.
Meanwhile, out on the street the neighborhood seemed like a battle zone. People was running out of their houses wearing only their pajamas, trying to help one another while fire fighters and police officers called out for everyone to evacuate their homes. By now it was three in the morning and very dark, but it could have been the middle of the day for all the activity in the streets.
Three major fires blazed at the same time, and fire fighters and rescuers fought long and hard to keep them under control. Also, several smaller fires and flare-ups broke out, and there was a general feeling that this was not real, this couldn't be happening.
Back in the Ascolillo house, Elliott was increasing his flapping and screeching until, finally, his efforts paid off. Blinking and yawning, Ed slowly sat up in bed, still not understanding what was happening. When he saw Elliott in such a frenzy, he thought he must still be dreaming. Was this the quiet, loving little bird who never made a peep? What was wrong? What did Elliott want?
Struggling to awaken Irene, Ed shook off the last feelings of sleep and finally sniffed the air. Gas. Ed could smell gas throughout the house. He knew that the smell was a sign of danger and that he must get his family out of the house quickly or there could be serious trouble. Irene was still groggy from sleep, but soon realized the danger and, together with Ed, rushed to their sons' room.
Eddie Jr. and Michael were sleeping and felt cold and clammy. Ed and Irene did not know if they were just very tired or if the gas had already made them sick. Breathing in too much gas can make you lose consciousness, cause you to become very ill, and even kill you. So, of course, Ed and Irene grabbed the children from their beds and raced out of the house as fast as possible. They were careful not to turn on the lights because they knew even one small spark from a light switch could set off an explosion and blow up the house.
Safely outside, the Ascolillos saw all the commotion, heard the wailing of fire trucks and the cries of their friends and neighbors. They were surprised that they had slept through all this activity and were grateful to Elliott for saving their lives. They looked around to thank him--but where was he? Elliott must still be in the house!
Without a second thought, Ed ran back into the gas-filled house--a house that could explode any minute--to rescue his hero bird. Calling to Elliott, Ed was able to get the frightened parrot into his cage and to the safety of his family waiting outside. Irene walked the boys and Elliott to Ed's mother's home only a few blocks away.
It was a warm evening, and most local homeowners had left their windows open to let in fresh air. The Ascolillos, however, had kept theirs shut. The gas in the house could not escape, and soon there was a dangerously high level of gas that was building every minute.
For the second time that night, Ed bravely dashed into his home, this time to open the windows and let out all the gas. Irene and neighbors all called out to Ed, urging him to get out of the house before it was too late. Racing through the rooms to open the windows, Ed knew he was in danger. But he also knew he wanted to save his house from destruction, so he went down to the basement to turn off the house's main gas valve. The smell was especially strong down there and it was difficult to breathe. Ed strained to turn off the gas valve, but it seemed stuck and wouldn't budge. He put all his strength into it, and suddenly the valve moved. He had turned off the gas was ready to leave when, behind him, came an explosion.
Flames leaped out at him from the hot-water heater. With gas still lingering in the house, a small fire could turn into an inferno in seconds. Thinking fast, Ed grabbed a fire extinguisher next to the furnace and blasted the flames. The fire was soon out, and, coughing and choking, Ed made his way back outside to his waiting wife and friends.
The Ascolillo family was reunited, along with Elliott, and their home remained safe and secure. Although fire fighters worked tirelessly through the night as several fires continued to flare, the neighborhood was returned to normal in a matter of days. Incredibly, and thanks to the professional work of rescuers, police, and fire fighters, not one person died in the ordeal.
Elliott was truly an amazing hero, and the Ascolillos are closer to him than ever before. Dr. McMillan, the veterinarian, was also very impressed with Elliott's story. She explained to the family that birds kept in captivity, such as in a house, are known to treat the people around them like other birds--like their own family. In all families, human or not, the members' safety is a major concern. Elliott, sensing danger, warned the Ascolillo family as if he were warning his own bird family in the only way he knew how-by flapping and making noise to alert them to the problem.
Elliott was a hero. In 1987, he was awarded the highest honor for an animal: the Pet of the Year Award of the Massachusetts SPCA. Elliott won the award from a field of over 2,500 other pets--and became the first bird ever to win this unique honor.