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Controversial bear will remain on sale
Controversial bear will remain on sale
LINK!MONTPELIER — The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. will continue to sell a bear wearing a straitjacket through Valentine's Day, despite opposition by the state's mental health community.
The company said Wednesday it would not pull the controversial $70 "Crazy for You" bear from its Valentine's Day lineup. It did apologize if the stuffed animal offended anyone.
"We recognize that this is a sensitive, human issue and sincerely apologize if we have offended anyone," the Shelburne-based company said in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon. "This 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."
Light-hearted is not how the state's mental health community viewed the 15-inch bear, which comes complete with commitment papers and is a gift designed "for someone you're crazy about."
The Vermont chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill complained about the bear in a letter Monday to the 20-year-old bear manufacturer, calling it a "tasteless use of marketing that stigmatizes persons with mental illness."
It was the first formal criticism of the product since it appeared for sale days ago, and the alliance asked the company to pull it from its shelves.
On Wednesday, one of the state's leading mental health advocates ripped Vermont Teddy Bear's decision to keep selling the bear and suggested that opposition to the bear would intensify.
"I would say that there is an opportunity here to definitely educate the public about the stigma of mental illness," said Ken Libertoff of the Vermont Association for Mental Health.
"We share a concern about the Vermont Teddy Bear marketing approach here," he said, "and it would be very important for the company to meet with mental health advocates so that they could understand why they should change their marketing approach."
He criticized the use of a straitjacket and commitment papers as a symbol of love, saying it diminished the plight of those who suffer from mental illness.
More than 12,000 Vermont adults are said to have severe mental health problems.
"It's most inappropriate to use this campaign," Libertoff said. "To the degree that a straitjacket is used for a marketing tool as a certain comic twist is most inappropriate."
The company said the bear, as a limited Valentine's Day edition, would be allowed to remain on sale as planned. Spokeswoman Nicole L'Huillier said that the company had "spent a lot of time thinking about this" before reaching its decision.
"You can't please everybody, but that doesn't mean that we don't think that mental health is a very serious issue, and we did not intend to diminish it in any way," she said.
In its statement, the company said the bear was developed through a "product development process" that showed great enthusiasm for it.
"The Crazy for You bear was created to help guys convey how they feel about their significant other, that they are smitten with their wife or girlfriend," the statement continued.
Reaction to the bear has been mixed. Although the company declined to release sales figures, L'Huillier said that interest in it piqued after news of the controversy surrounding it broke Wednesday.
"There has definitely been a buzz about this bear," she said. "The customer service department has had calls from people who really want to buy this bear and others who have called to say they are offended."
E-mails from around the country also have poured in to the Rutland Herald and The Times Argus, which first reported the story in Wednesday's editions. The reaction to the bear has been almost evenly split between those who think the company should yank the bear and others who think mental health advocates should not take the toy so seriously.