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'Crazy' teddy bear prompts protest

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. plans to continue selling its "Crazy for You Bear" through Valentine's Day, despite protests from mental health advocates.

The bear, wrapped in a white straitjacket with a red heart on the front, comes with commitment papers and is meant to convey out-of-control love, the company says.

"We recognize that this is a sensitive, human issue and sincerely apologize if we have offended anyone," the company said in a statement. "That was certainly not our intent. This bear was created in the spirit of Valentine's Day, and as with all of our bears, it was designed to be a light-hearted depiction of the sentiment of love."

Mental health advocates consider the bear "a tasteless use of marketing that stigmatizes persons with mental illness," Jerry Goessel, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, wrote to the Shelburne-based company.

"A straitjacket is not a symbol that we want to associate with sales of a teddy bear for loved ones over Valentine's Day," Goessel said. "And the use of commitment papers, legal documents committing an individual to involuntary treatment, is not something to be taken casually."

He asked that the 15-inch bear, which sells for about $70, be pulled from the company's shelves. Goessel said his position is supported by other mental health advocates.

The company said it would discontinue the bear, but not before Feb. 14.

"This bear was developed just for Valentine's Day and is not a permanent addition to our product line," the company statement said. "This bear will remain an offering for Valentine's Day."

The complaint is the first received by the company about the bear, which began selling days ago.

Vermont Teddy Bear spokeswoman Nicole L'Huillier said the company takes Goessel's concerns seriously.

"We in no way are trying to ridicule or make fun of people with mental illnesses," L'Huillier said. "The bear is meant to express the sentiment of how someone might feel about someone else around Valentine's Day."

Vermont Teddy Bear, a 20-year-old company known for its Bear-Grams, sells more than 450,000 bears a year.

The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. plans to continue selling its 'Crazy for You Bear' through Valentine's Day, despite protests from mental health advocates who consider the bear 'tasteless.'
The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. plans to continue selling its "Crazy for You Bear" through Valentine's Day, despite protests from mental health advocates who consider the bear "tasteless."
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