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The Teddy Bear Project

Stacey during the Hero Dog Awards. Photo courtesy of Maria Mandel.

The idea came to 19-year-old Maria Mandel in 2011 when she wanted to do something nice for the elderly that were confined to nursing homes. The Guffey, CO teen posted an idea on Facebook about wanting to collect stuffed animals and distribute them to the elderly and kids in the hospital. It seemed that many people liked her idea and she began to collect stuffed animals from around the world. Within one year, more than 16,000 people joined her Facebook page and she had collected over 3,000 stuffed animals.

Her best friend Stacey Mae was the perfect delivery dog for the job. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is described as goofy and lovable. "Stacey is kind of a silly dog," says Richard Mandel, Maria's Dad. "She's not serious about what she does. She's just there wagging her tail, happy to be there. She's not demanding attention. She's not jumping up on anybody's lap. She's just there and if you feel like petting her, that's fine. If you don't, she'll just lie down and keep you company while you talk."

Maria and Stacey visit nursing homes 2 to 3 times a week, passing out stuffed animals, blankets and baked goods. The sight of the dog is always a welcomed sight. She helps to brighten the lives of those who are often forgotten about. "People can relate to dogs," says Richard. "They generally had one. They can relate to Stacey being there, being silly." "It is a simple gesture," says Maria, "but seeing people happy makes me happy. Seeing them smile makes me smile."

Because of her delivery work, Stacey Mae was nominated for the American Humane Association Hero Dog Award which "celebrates the powerful relationship between dogs and people. Hero Dogs are ordinary dogs doing extraordinary things." The Swissie was nominated in the Therapy Dog category.