Friday , November 24, 2017 - 12:00 AM
UINTAH — The newest volunteer with the Uintah Fire Department has a cheerful disposition, a tattoo of candy canes on the bottom of his left foot, and an incredibly heartwarming backstory.
This is the story of a little girl, a police officer and one well-traveled, stuffed-animal moose. That moose — who goes by the hyper-descriptive name “Mr. Moosey” — arrived in Utah on Monday, Nov. 20. He’s spending about a week with the Uintah Fire Department before heading off to Logan to hang out with the Utah Highway Patrol up there.
Our tale begins about a year ago in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Officer James Gibbas of the Towamencin Township Police Department had made a traffic stop and was talking to the driver when the back window of her van rolled down.
A 5-year-old girl held a plush-toy moose out the window and attempted to give it to Gibbas. The police officer politely declined but the girl persisted.
“With the cutest face, she looked at me and told me her moose would keep me safe,” Gibbas writes in a letter that accompanies Mr. Moosey around the country. “Obviously, I had no choice but to take the moose after hearing that! With a huge lump in my throat, I thanked her for her moose and safely completed the rest of my shift.”
Gibbas had originally intended to keep Mr. Moosey with him each shift he worked, but then he decided it would be selfish not to share the girl’s gift with others. So he made a few calls to neighboring police departments, and the moose officially went on the loose beginning Dec. 12, 2016, in Hazelton, Pennsylvania.
Since then, the stuffed animal has been traveling the country in a protective evidence case, complete with a journal Gibbas calls “Mr. Moosey’s passport.” The agencies that are visited are asked to write their information and a brief note to the little girl in the journal, and perhaps include a patch or pin from their agency.
It’s all chronicled in “Mr. Moosey’s World Tour,” a Facebook page Gibbas created to document the stuffed animal’s wanderings. And those wanderings have been impressive. So far, Mr. Moosey has visited police and fire departments in 15 states, and Gibbas says he’s only halfway through all the current requests for visits in the U.S. He’s also fielded requests for the moose from departments in places like Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Germany and England.
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“Just the timing of when this little girl gave me the moose was amazing,” Gibbas told the Standard-Examiner on Wednesday. “It was December of last year, right at a time when law enforcement was becoming targets around the country. So everybody embraced this small good luck charm.”
Kirsten Stuart, public information officer for Uintah Fire Department, said they learned of Mr. Moosey about a year ago, and have been trying to get him to visit ever since.
“He finally got here on Monday,” Stuart said. “We changed him out of his police clothes and issued him some firefighter turnout gear — so now he looks like a real firefighter.”
Mr. Moosey’s black-and-orange fireman’s jacket has “Uintah” and “Moosey” emblazoned on the back, and the firefighter helmet has the station’s number — “91” — on it.
The fire department is spending the week taking photographs of Mr. Moosey’s adventures — posing with firefighters, assisting with paperwork, learning how to open a fire hydrant, going to the gym, helping with training by volunteering to be strapped to a backboard. The photos are then sent to Gibbas, who adds them to the Mr. Moosey’s World Tour Facebook page.
Uintah Fire Department battalion chief Danielle Bird said they have a full week planned for the stuffed animal.
“We’ll put him in an engine and let him ride shotgun,” she said.
Bird also pulled the Thursday shift, so Mr. Moosey is spending Thanksgiving Day with her at the fire station.
When Mr. Moosey finally goes back home to Pennsylvania, Gibbas intends on returning him — along with his passport and all accompanying souvenirs — to the little girl who started it all.
That return date is still up in the air. Initially, Gibbas had planned on giving him back to the now 6-year-old girl sometime next month. But with the flood of requests he’s received for the moose, that timeline is “completely out the window now.” Gibbas guesses Mr. Moosey’s World Tour will end sometime in 2018.
“But don’t hold me to that,” he says.
Stuart says the kindness and innocence of the girl’s gift has completely melted her heart. She believes the gesture has brought a little unity and humanizing to a difficult job.
“It’s as mushy as it gets for feel-good stories,” Stuart said. “When you look at the news, people either hate cops or love cops. But here’s a little kid who said, ‘Here. This is to keep you safe.’ ”
And that’s the part that amazes Bird — the idea that a small child would be willing to entrust her beloved stuffed animal to a complete stranger.
“This little girl was willing to give it up to keep this police officer safe,” Bird said.
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.
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