Neighbors say Mary Musselman has been feeding backyard animals as long as they can remember.
“She fed the squirrels, the birds, strays and that was in the community. She’s just always been that kind of soul,” says neighbor Patty Palmer.
That is, until Wednesday, when the 81-year retired physical education teacher was hauled to jail for feeding bears one too many times.
“I just think it’s so heavy handed. Way overdone. I don’t think that there was much thought given to her age, her physical, her mental condition,” says John Payne, who is also a neighbor.
But authorities say she had been warned before. Last November, Fish and Wildlife officers had to euthanize a bear she had been feeding. A judge gave her probation, and made it clear: do it again, and go to jail.
“We sympathize with her and her husband. This is a situation that deteriorated through time and it’s an unfortunate outcome,” says Gary Morse, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission spokesman.
Apparently, Musselman didn’t go without a fight. An arrest report says she struggled and kicked at officers, then threatened to shoot and kill the wildlife officer if she set foot on her property again.
Wildlife officers say bears that are fed are more likely to get aggressive and more likely to be euthanized.
“Once wildlife, any wildlife — especially bears — lose their fear of people, then there’s a potential for destruction when they’re trying to get into people’s sheds at food, birds seed, dog food, etc. And there’s a potential for danger to people,” Morse said.
A lot of people are upset not only that Musselman is in jail, but that a bear had to be euthanized.
Fish and wildlife officers say that’s exactly what they want to avoid.
But once a bear becomes aggressive and unable to be relocated, they say they have no choice but to euthanize.
The title makes this punishment sound severe, but after reading the details, you may agree that enforcing this law makes sense to protect both other people who live around her and bears as well.