Jeff Horsely, John Doe and Greg Mills Bears and More

Officers Jeff Horsely, John Doe and Greg Mills show off teddy bears at Bears & More, which celebrates its 39th anniversary this year.

Valerie Burner, the owner of Bears & More, enjoys Historic Downtown Glendale, her neighbors and her work. 

She called that the secret to her nearly 30-year success. 

Bears & More is a collectible store with teddy bears, other stuffed animals, games, puzzles and “vintage treasures.” 

“There are hours and hours of stories and favorites,” Burner said. “We’ve made a lot of friends — lifelong friends. It’s been an amazing journey.”

Bears & More hosts an annual Teddy Bear Day, during which it fundraises with a lemonade stand, sells its home-grown vegetables and asks customers to purchase bears for first responders to give to children. This year it’s Sept. 11.

“We have been able to provide over 10,000 bears to the Phoenix and Glendale police departments, child crisis centers, emergency rooms as well as Glendale and Phoenix fire departments,” Burner said. 

Glendale Fire Department public information officer Capt. Ashley Losch said her office has received hundreds of bears over the years, and they use every one. The bears are given to kids who were involved in a traumatic situation — themselves or a family member. 

“We found that using the teddy bear with a child was a really wonderful way to ease their anxiety and give them something to hold on to,” Losch said.

“Let’s say they were in a car accident and they’re scared and their parent is hurt. Being able to give them (a bear) to hold onto makes them feel safer. It connects us with them. By giving them the bear, they’re more inclined to allow us to treat them without going into hysterics.”

Losch said in one situation, a 3-year-old girl was playing with the family dog when the animal bit her face and literally tore part of it off. Upon arrival, Losch give her a trauma teddy bear and told the girl if she was hurt or scared, she could squeeze it and it would keep her safe. 

This immediately eased the girl’s fear, according to Losch, and they could treat her easily because she was distracted by the bear.

More than being a comfort item, the bears can provide insight into how the child is feeling.

“Often, and especially at 3 years old, they don’t verbalize ‘I’m scared.’ They’re just crying, and you don’t know if they are just scared or hurt,” Losch said. “So, we can just say ‘Squeeze the bear if you are hurt’ and it really helps.”

Bears & More’s Teddy Bear Day also helps a group called Arizona Search Dogs and has done so for over 15 years. The organization isn’t given bears. Instead, Arizona Search Dogs receives proceeds from Bears & More’s fresh lemonade or home-grown vegetables sales.

Burner said they were looking for different organizations to sponsor when she saw a picture of a yellow Labrador puppy who had been selected to become a search dog. Her brother-in-law worked with the Glendale Fire Department, so he connected Burner with Arizona Search Dogs and they quickly became partners.

“We fell in love with the people,” Burner said. “We truly believe that this is important work. Should I, or any of us, ever need finding, we want (the dogs) to be ready to find us. Surprisingly, they’ve been deployed where we have family or friends. Even if it seems like they work far away and across the country, it’s not. Someone’s family was there.”

Arizona Search Dogs spends about two years and 2,000 hours training puppies into crisis search and rescue dogs, according to John Dean, its team captain. 

“We are one of 28 FEMA-sponsored task forces throughout the country that are deployed to national disasters,” Dean said. “(We responded) to disasters such as 9/11, wildfires in Oregon, the Oso mudslide in Washington and the Dallas-Fort Worth tornado. The dogs are part of the search-and-rescue component.”

Dean said the dogs are trained to bark an alert when they catch the victim’s scent. Then the dog’s handler rewards the dog and brings the rescue team to rescue the person.

About 10 years ago, they started training dogs to find dead bodies as well, because they felt it was important to return victims to their families for a proper ceremony. The dogs are trained the same way.

“What’s neat is that with all the technology we have, there’s really nothing that can replace the dog right now, as far as the ability and accuracy of the nose and finding out where the victim is in a short amount of time,” Dean said.

Bears & More has provided at least seven dogs for Arizona Search Dogs, at the cost of about $2,500 per dog, plus the cost of travel to obtain them. By helping Arizona Search Dogs to get more dogs, the store’s contribution has helped save lives around the country.

“Without the bear folks, we would have been ‘Arizona Search Dog’ instead of Arizona Search Dogs,” Dean said. “They’re just one of our biggest, longest, most loyal supporters. We think the world of them.”