The tragic tale of an exotic bird than went missing from West Islip pet store has a new and surprising twist — the parrot was possibly pilfered.
A Bay Shore man was arraigned Monday for intentionally swiping Sonny, an emotional support parrot, from a pet store in November, as the bird was being groomed. The South American Quaker parrot, which was kept in a van in unusually cold weather, died a short time later, authorities said.
Suffolk County police, which put out a Nov. 14 Crime Stopper alert on Sonny, determined the bird's disappearance to be noncriminal. But days later, detectives appeared to have reopened the investigation, formally arresting Paul Welch, 50, on Nov. 22.
Welch, who owns a contracting business, was arraigned Monday in District Court in Central Islip on a charge of petit larceny and released on his own recognizance.
"We maintain that Mr. Welch mistakenly took the wrong box from the store," said Robert Macedonio, Welch's defense attorney. "This was a tragic mistake and my client is very remorseful."
But prosecutors said in court papers that Welch "intentionally" took the parrot, valued at $350, "from its rightful owner without having permission to do so, after discovering that he had received the wrong item while shopping at BTJ Jungle pet store."
Iffat Furoogh has said she and her sons, Faris and Raffay, bought the bird, known to acquire a large vocabulary and become a good talker, to keep her and her mother, Sitara, company. The family said it spent $600 on Sonny, including the cost of a cage and food from a Petco store.
On Nov. 11 the family brought Sonny to BTJ’s Jungle to be groomed. But a short time later someone took the bird and left the store in a white van, authorities said.
Members of the Furoogh family did not return calls for comment Monday.
Macedonio said that Welch mistakenly believed he was taking home a box filled with mice he planned to feed to his pet snake. During the 30-minute drive home from the pet store, Welch put the box into a black contractor-sized garbage bag — not aware that there was a live bird inside, he said.
Suffolk police declined to say what prompted investigators to reopen the case but confirmed the bird was deceased. South American Quaker parrots typically live 25 to 30 years.
Bill Niehoff, co-owner of the pet store, said he received tips from neighbors that the bird had lived longer than was originally disclosed to police. He shared that information with detectives.
"I feel bad this guy did this," said Niehoff, adding the box with the parrot was considerably larger than the one with the mice. "It's really an unfortunate situation."
Macedonio said the bird survived for about two days after Welch brought it home from the pet store.
BTJ’s Jungle found a replacement parrot free of charge for the Furoogh family in late-November. The feathered fowl is now home with its new owners, Niehoff said.
Welch is due back in court March 5.