If there was one constant in Barbara Kulick's life, it was Leo. For the past 18 years, the parrot has been there when she got up in the morning, when she went to bed at night, and in all those in-between moments that blur with the passage of time.
Leo never said much more than the occasional hello, although he did whistle a pretty respectable tune. And though he never asked for more than a head rub now and then, the Blue Front Amazon parrot brought companionship to Kulick's otherwise solitary life.
All that changed on New Year's Eve.
Sometime on Dec. 31, between when Kulick left for work in the morning and when she returned at about four that afternoon, someone broke into her Lincoln Oaks apartment on N Dale Mabry Highway. They forced the deadbolt on the front door and made off with money, jewelry and more.
They had Leo.
"When I came in, the first thing I said was, "Leo, Leo,' " Kulick, 51, recalled. "I screamed and I looked all over."
She saw that Leo's cage, which sat in the living room, was empty. He was nowhere to be found in the small apartment. Then she noticed a piece of a smaller cage that she kept in a closet, lying on the floor near Leo's cage. And she knew what had happened.
"Sure enough, they scooped up that small cage and made off with him in broad daylight," said Kulick, who is still amazed that none of her neighbors saw anything.
"The jewelry and the cash I couldn't care less about," she said. "But Leo was like a child to me."
Kulick, who works as a home health care worker, has distributed hundreds of fliers describing Leo and offering a reward for his return. She said she's looked all over Tampa, has contacted every veterinarian and wildlife organization in the area and has even posted her plea on the Internet.
"One day I spent six hours just driving around looking for him," she said. "It's just become a compulsive thing."
Kulick doesn't know how old Leo is, only that she rescued him from an abusive situation 18 years ago. She was living in upstate New York and working in real estate when she found him in a home she was preparing to list.
"He had no feathers," she said. "It was horrible."
Kulick educated herself on the ways of parrots. They have mood swings, she said, and will sometimes bite the hand that feeds them, just for the fun of it.
"A lot of people will get a parrot and think they will talk and be cute," she said. "They really are not play toys."
They also are expensive; one like Leo can cost anywhere from $900 to $2,000, Kulick said.
"I truly believe he's in someone's house and someone knows something," said Kulick, describing Leo as a mature parrot, about 8 inches tall and with a yellow and green body.
"What they've done to my life is too much," she said. "This morning I didn't have to work. I just woke up, and I'm so depressed."
Anyone with information about the parrot can reach Kulick at (813) 960-2617.
_ Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308 or ripleysptimes.com.
Barbara Kulick holds two photographs of her 18-year companion, Leo the parrot, over his cage, now empty. Kulick's home was burglarized on New Year's Eve, and Leo, a Blue Front Amazon, was taken along with jewelry, cash and other items.