So when Teddy was lost along a hiking trail in Glacier National Park in Montana last year, Naomi, then 5, was devastated and distraught over losing her best friend.
“This wasn’t just any stuffed animal. This stuffed animal had been with her through so much and was so important,” Ben Pascal, her father, told The Washington Post. “We were just holding out hope that Teddy was somewhere along the trail.”
It took about a year, but the Wyoming family’s hope was answered in the form of family friends and strangers on social media — and a bear specialist at the national park who found Teddy and helped him “hibernate” for the winter.
“I just didn’t want this teddy bear to be thrown out,” Tom Mazzarisi, a ranger at Glacier National Park, told The Post.
The park announced last month on Facebook that “Teddy made his way into Naomi’s arms after a year of being separated.” The park added: “Glacier National Park is renowned for its grizzly and black bears, and now teddy bears as well.”
Ben and Addie Pascal were thrilled when they were matched with Naomi, then only a toddler, in 2016. About a month before they arrived in Ethiopia to adopt her, the parents sent Naomi the teddy bear, which was the first gift she had ever received, her father said.
“We have a photo of her the day she got the bear at the orphanage,” said Ben Pascal, 44, the senior pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, a popular Wyoming ski town outside Grand Teton National Park. “It was a special photo for us to see that the bear made it into her hands.”
Early on, her parents noticed the toughness and resiliency in their little girl. They also saw how much she loved being a kid, which included going on adventures with Teddy, whether it was in their backyard or thousands of miles away.
“Teddy has been in tow with her the whole time,” her father said.
The family’s trip to Glacier National Park in early October 2020 was another adventure for Teddy — but for reasons they did not anticipate. They were about an hour into their drive back from the hike, Pascal said, when Naomi knew something was wrong and shrieked: “Teddy!” After it snowed overnight, the parents, realizing the stuffed animal probably got lost on the trail, hoped Teddy would eventually turn up.
“There was a sadness when she lost Teddy,” the father said. “We thought, ‘Shoot, maybe in the springtime someone will find Teddy.’ ”
Unbeknown to the Pascals, it wouldn’t take long for someone to cross paths with him. Days later, Mazzarisi was doing some end-of-season work at the park’s Hidden Lake Trail when he spotted a teddy bear covered in snow. The ranger, who says bears are his passion, noticed how wet the stuffed animal was from the melted snow and wondered how it got there.
“It was kind of odd as the bear was kind of beat up and weathered-looking. It looked like it had been there for a while instead of a day or two,” said Mazzarisi, 49. “There was something about the bear. You just kind of had a feeling there was a backstory somewhere.”
Intrigued by his newfound friend, the bear specialist adopted Teddy. After the teddy bear “hibernated” in Mazzarisi’s cabin during the offseason, the park ranger returned to work in April and proceeded to place the stuffed animal on the dashboard of his white pickup truck. He named him Ceasar for the “regal” nature in which he sat up on the dashboard.
“He commanded the truck,” the ranger joked.
In Wyoming, Naomi was still missing Teddy. In June, eight months after Teddy was lost, Addie Pascal took to Facebook in an emotional plea for those who had been to the national park to see if they had seen her daughter’s stuffed animal.
“He’s been by her side for so many milestones,” she wrote. “But there are many more adventures to be had!”
Though one person shared a photo of Teddy on the day he was lost, no one had any fresh leads. The loss of Teddy bugged Terri Hayden, a family friend of the Pascals. When Hayden’s family went to the Montana national park in late September, she decided to check lost-and-found sites and the trail where Teddy was last seen.
“I’m a woman of faith,” Hayden told the Associated Press. “And that morning I said, ‘OK Lord, if this bear is around, please put that bear in my path and let me come home with that bear today.’ ”
After they were turned away from a trail reported to have bear activity, Hayden and her niece couldn’t believe what they spotted: Teddy on the dashboard of a park ranger’s truck.
“I run up to these rangers and I’m hyperventilating,” Hayden told the AP. “And I’m going, ‘There’s a truck down at the trailhead and there’s a bear sitting on the dashboard.’ ”
Mazzarisi, who was enjoying his day off, got a text message from a colleague telling him what had transpired and how he had given Hayden the bear so it could be returned to Naomi. Though he acknowledged he was “a little bummed” knowing his mascot was gone, Mazzarisi said he was “super excited” once he found out the history of the stuffed animal. As a thank-you, Hayden bought Mazzarisi a new teddy bear he named Clover.
“I was so happy, especially hearing the story about the bear,” he said. “You could make a movie out of all the little things that could have gone right or wrong — we could have ignored it as it sat underneath the snow and disappeared, an animal could have run off with it. It seems simple, but it really isn’t.”
When the Pascals told Naomi that Teddy was on his way back to Wyoming, the 6-year-old was ecstatic, her father said.
“We can’t believe this happened and the way it happened,” he said. “It wasn’t that someone found it on the side of the trail. Ranger Tom took Teddy on all these adventures. He kept the bear because he sensed something about it.”
Now that they’re back together, Naomi and Teddy are eyeing the family’s next big trip, to Italy in summer 2022. Pascal said it will be another chapter in the deep-rooted story of the little girl from Ethiopia and the teddy bear that was lost and found in a national park.
“There is something beautiful about stuffed animals,” he said. “This park ranger had the heart to save this bear.”
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