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LAKE MILTON Critters provide comfort to kids



Published: Mon, August 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The police chief said the community has flooded his office with about 500 stuffed animals in two weeks.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

LAKE MILTON -- They don't carry handguns or drive cruisers.

These fluffy fellows protect and serve in a different way -- with a cuddly hug.

They're teddy bears. And they ride along with officers in Milton Township, ready to be of service to any child who is scared, angry or otherwise traumatized by a police visit and the circumstances surrounding it.

Police Chief William Moretz said the bears -- and other cuddly critters -- have been on board cruisers for about five years. But the animals were in danger of becoming extinct after a supplier stopped donating them. About two weeks ago, the chief began asking for donations.

Donations: Bears flooded his office. So far, he's collected about 500. One woman made a delivery of about 100 beanbag animals.

"The people of this community have really come forward," Moretz said. "I'm just tickled pink. It's great."

But the bears are still on the department's most-wanted list. To donate, drop off a new or good condition stuffed animal at the department headquarters, 15992 Milton Ave.

The animals are stored at the department with fabric softener sheets. Officers place them in small plastic bags in a box in their trunks until they are needed.

At least one bear is given a new home each week, the chief said.

Calming critters: Moretz said the critters help smooth over the strain that exists between an officer and a child in domestic violence situations, especially when an officer has to arrest mom or dad.

He said the animals also have been delivered to child accident victims, those who have witnessed neighborhood disturbances, those who have been affected by drownings and young victims of physical or sexual abuse.

Moretz told of an episode during which a frightened 3-year-old girl came into the department with her mother, complaining of sexual abuse. A bear helped calm her.

In another matter, two residents on off-road vehicles were rushing up a neighborhood street, hollering and screaming at each other. Children in the neighborhood were scared but soothed by the stuffed animals.

"It really works," Moretz said. "They love it. You'd think we were giving them a million dollars."

viviano@vindy.com




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