Zephyrhills Woman's Yard Is A Zoo

--By: NICOLA M. WHITE http://pasco.tbo.com/pasco/MGBQ3XW1ECE.html

ZEPHYRHILLS, FLORIDA - Some people string Christmas lights or hang up seasonal flags. Sharon Leath pins hundreds of teddy bears to the camphor trees outside her home.

``I guess you could say I rescue stuffed animals,'' Leath said.

Over Christmas last year, Leath, 54, set out a couple of plush toys as part of her yuletide yard display. She kind of liked the way they hung out in her garden, she said.

She decided to add a few more. Over Easter, she sat bunny rabbits by her mailbox. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July brought red-white- and- blue stuffed critters clutching to the bark of the trees that shade her yard.

It just became one of those things. Soon, her yard, porch and carport teemed with more than 300 stuffed dinosaurs, dogs, monkeys, a giant gorilla wearing wrestling pants and a snake wrapped around a tree limb.

``I hadn't really planned on it. It just kind of grew,'' she said.

Since Christmas, Leath has bought more than 300 stuffed bears from the toy bins of the Gulfside Regional Hospice thrift store and other thrift stores in the area. The result is a striking, brake-inducing exhibit. Strangers slow down and sometimes pull into her driveway to snap pictures, she said.

Medium-sized bears, including one wearing a Shoney's restaurant T- shirt, sit in her window boxes instead of flowers. Stuffed giraffes, lions and koalas (the exotic exhibit) climb a ladder outside the carport. Monkeys of various colors swing and hang by string from the branches.

``The mail lady said they looked happy. Well, it's better than being in a barrel,'' she said, referring to the animals' previous living arrangement.

Florida is not known for its kind weather, however. Summer storms and general humidity have resulted in a few teddy bear casualties. Mildew eats at the plush fabric. Heavy rains cause waterlogged bear limbs.

``I'm going to lose a couple here and there,'' she said, noting that despite the large collection, she had spent only about $100.

Speaking of large collections, after her animals multiplied to a certain number, Leath worried the city might bust up her stuffed animal kingdom. So far, no worries.

The city's building department has no ordinances in place governing lawn ornaments. Code enforcement officer Gene Brown checked with the city attorney about the Eighth Street display, he said.

So far, Leath's neighbors haven't said anything either.

Leath has more bunnies, bears and barnyard animals in bags, but for now, she's finished with the display.

``I'm about done,'' she said.