By Josh Saunders
A mum has spent more than three decades running a real-life cuddly animal hospital – repairing nearly 5,000 toys from teddies to giraffes, tigers, monkeys and more.
Martha Anderson, 59, from Midlothian, Virginia, spends up to 12 hours a day fixing strangers’ treasured toys sent to her from the USA and Canada to the UK, Australia, France and Japan.
She started professionally at 29-years-old, several years after a friend asked her to reattach a missing eye on a friend’s teddy and being inundated with requests following that.
Dealing with everything from damaged limbs to re-stuffing teddies, she’s worked on specialist Mohair and Steiff toys that cost thousands of dollars to inexpensive $5 toys from local stores.
Her most complicated piece was Cecily, a near-nine-foot giraffe, whose outer lining and inner metal framework had been damaged by kids climbing on it, which took eight months to fix.
Dependent on the size of a piece, repairs can see her working for weeks and months, to as many as 20 in a day for smaller pieces.
Despite developing carpal tunnel syndrome from her work, she’s determined to keep her client’s cuddly toys alive and in one piece for as long as possible.
Martha, who runs Mar-Ke Mohair, said: “I have repaired thousands of animals in my time, I’ve fixed so many animals that I feels like an animal hospital.
“Some of them are so small they fit in the palm of your hand and then there are others like Cecily the giraffe who was nearly nine feet tall.
“One of the most exciting things is getting an email back from someone who received their toy back after it’s been repaired, because they are so happy and pleased.
“It’s such a joy to me and I love the transformation, when I open a box and see a horrible, dirty, gross teddy inside I know it will look so good when it’s done.
“The sentimental value of a toy is priceless, you just can’t put a price on it, and it’s why people send me toys that cost $10 but will pay $100 to have them restored and fixed.
“I remember what my kids were like with their toys and I want everyone to have the toy they love for as long as they can keep it.
“I don’t give preferential treatment, it doesn’t matter if it cost $2 or $250, I’ll treat the toy as if it were my own.
“For me, all that matters is that the person felt strongly enough to have it worked on and so I need to treat it with respect.”
Martha started collecting bears and cuddly animals in her early 20s, becoming fascinated with their construction and the fabrics used to create them.
After repairing her first bear for a friend, a business would eventually develop that would see her mending thousands of cuddly toys.
One of her biggest challenges was Cecily the giraffe due to his sheer size, which meant the toy had to be wheeled through the warehouse on a gurney-like carrier.
Martha said: “Cecily the giraffe was so big that he didn’t fit in my house and was so challenging because the inside framework was broken at crucial spots because children had climbed on it.
“My husband Keith is a machinist, so we had to devise a way to repair the metal framework, one spark would have set the giraffe alight.”
While she specialises in plush animal brands, she works on anything from starfish to seals, dinosaurs, life-sized tigers and more.
The toys can range from near-brand-new to the turn of the century, of which a few have concealed some surprises.
Martha said: “I have found lots of different things stuffed inside of toys from paper notes to strange fabrics and in one was something very shocking.
“Inside a little turn of the century bear – only 12-inches tall – was the biggest pair of women’s granny pants I’ve ever seen, they were huge and must have been there for so long.”
For each order, she insists that her clients send photos and a description of the damage so that she can assess what needs repairing.
From there she needs a minimum of $40 for the work, but for more expensive toys the repairs can stretch to hundreds of dollars.
She’s able to repair the majority of animals aside from those made of leather or fur, have dry rot and a few other disqualifiers.
Martha said: “I feel my job is not to remake the toys, I want to repair and restore what’s there, if they are too fragile, I don’t work on them.
“I try to use materials that are original to the toy, so a turn of the century toy had wood chippings inside, so I used that same process.”
Having done this kind of work for over 30 years, Martha now suffers with carpal-tunnel, requiring her to wear a brace while she sleeps, taking vitamins and having chiropractic adjustments.
Despite this, her passion for keeping loved toys alive keeps her going and as a collector with over 100 toys herself that she can’t ‘part with’, she appreciates their sentimental value.
Martha said: “I do have my favourites and I’m a grown woman, so I can only imagine young people and little kids, when something appeals to them it’s a comfort to them.
“There are people who bought their child’s bear at a local drug store and the child is so in love with that they can’t sleep without them.
“I’ve had older people email me asking if I can help, one person who was 75 had their bear since childhood and was not ready to let go.
“I love what I do, I truly love it and it’s such a blessing to work from home on these toys for the most part, I love sharing the joy of working on these toys.”