The kids at the Kelley family’s Glenburn home are a welcoming brood.

Philip, age 9, opens the door to a visitor, shows her to the spacious living room and anxiously starts to tell a story. Caroline, age 2, brings forth all of the unlit scented candles from around the house and graciously offers the guest a sniff at each one.

Kenneth, age 7, politely points out that the day is now Thursday and that the next day will be Friday.

Mom, Marty Kelley, gestures to the empty birdcage tucked into a kitchen corner. It’s the reason for this visit.

Sunset, you see, is missing.

The lost ads in the classified section of the newspaper are always a bit heartbreaking. Owners are desperately searching for a beloved cat or dog that is missing. Pleas for help are made, rewards are offered.

The Kelley family put in their own ad last week when Sunset, the yellow lovebird with the peach-colored neck and tail, disappeared while it was paying a visit to Marty’s mother’s home on Poplar Street in Bangor.

While all the pets that appear in the “lost” ads are clearly loved by their families, Sunset served an unexpected and very special purpose in the Kelley household.

Kenneth Kelley has autism. His is a severe case. His speech is limited and unclear. He screams, often from morning to night. He gets angry easily at his younger sister and dashes away from his mother at every opportunity, including when the car slows down at stoplights.

The Kelleys have spent years searching for the best treatments for their son. It has taken them to other states, and a variety of doctors and experimental programs. They have a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in their home in which Marty and Kenneth lie for three hours a day.

Respite for the members of this family is sometimes hard to come by.

Then, quite by accident, along came Sunset.

“It actually was my bird,” Philip announced.

The family was spending time in Florida last March while Kenneth was attending special speech classes there. Philip convinced his very skeptical mother that she should buy him a pet bird.

“She kept telling me I couldn’t handle a bird, because all the birds seemed to fly at me and screech,” he said. “Then I picked up this bird, and he just stayed quietly with me. It was like he picked me instead of me picking him.”

And when Kenneth met Sunset, Kenneth calmed down.

“It was just this unexpected and welcome surprise,” Marty said. “When Kenneth would get really agitated and screaming, we would bring out the bird and it was all good.”

Sunset spent a lot of time hitching rides on Kenneth’s shoulder. While the autism can cause him to be aggressive, Sunset helped Kenneth learn to be gentle and Kenneth talked to the bird – a lot.

“He’d tell her things, like ‘this is my truck’ or ‘this is my room.’ It was like continuous speech therapy for him,” Marty said this week.

During the week of the Bangor State Fair, the family jumped into the car with Sunset in tow and headed to Marty’s mom’s house.

“We were going to the fair, and we brought Sunset along for the car ride,” Marty said. “She really helped out in the car because Kenneth was more unlikely to unbuckle and get out of his seat or fight with his sister if the bird was with us.”

They left the bird at her mom’s while they went to the fair. The small, makeshift cage they used apparently was not enough to keep Sunset inside, and shortly after they left the house Marty’s mother called in a panic because the bird was missing.

They went door to door, up and down the street, but no one had seen the yellow lovebird.

“It can’t fly and she doesn’t like being outside. She’s happiest when she’s being held by someone, so if she saw anyone, she would most likely try to climb up their leg,” Marty said.

On Thursday we looked at pictures of the bird sitting on the shoulders of various family members. Kenneth, Marty said, doesn’t seem to realize that the bird is probably gone for good. We talked about whether they might get another bird.

“I just don’t think another bird would be the same. I think Sunset was a fluke. I don’t think we’d be so lucky twice,” Marty said.

In case someone has found the little yellow bird with the peach neck and tail, her name is Sunset and there’s a family in Glenburn that would sure like to have her back – because they could sure use the bit of respite that she provides.