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81-year-old Fla. woman arrested for feeding bears

Posted at 2:12 PM, Feb 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-02 13:13:04-05

(CNN) — Don’t feed the bears!

It’s an admonishment heard over and over again from wildlife officials. But Florida resident Mary Musselman didn’t listen, officials said.

And it got her arrested at age 81.

She is being held without bond, CNN affiliate WFTS reported.

“I think it is outrageous,” said Karen Tedder. She and other former students of the retired gym teacher held a gathering Thursday outside Musselman’s house in Sebring to pray for her.

She must be released, they say, because her husband is dying of cancer and she’s his only caregiver.

But authorities had warned her multiple times not to feed the black bears coming onto her property.

She did anyway. And she fed them a lot — up to 17 to 18 bowls of dog food at a time, wildlife officials told the affiliate.

The bears loved it and kept coming back. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission hated it and kept coming back, too.

Killing a bear

Musselman’s trouble with the law began last year, when wildlife officials had to put down a bear she was feeding, they said.

They went to great lengths to explain to her why she shouldn’t give the wild animals food, said FWC spokesman Gary Morse. They brought her informational videos and pamphlets, had conversations with her.

“Feeding bears results in bears losing their fear of people,” Morse said. After they get used to living around humans and getting food from them, relocating them does not solve the problem.

And when bears come too close to people, they do damage — to property and to people, Morse said.

The education they gave Musselman was all for naught.

“She told us she wasn’t going to stop,” Morse told the affiliate.

Then, in November, they issued her an official warning. Weeks later, officers caught her feeding bears again. Out came the instructional videos once more.

Still no change.

The law steps in

In December, Musselman was ordered to appear in court, where — this time — a judge told her to stop feeding the bears. That didn’t work either. On Christmas Eve, she was back in court; she left there on probation.

Again, the problem persisted: More food; more bears.

A judge sent wildlife commission officers to arrest Musselman. They said she fought them and told them she’d kill them.

Now she is charged not only with feeding wildlife but also with battery against a law officer and violating her probation.

Why wouldn’t she stop?

She thought the bears would starve without her, according to the affiliate.

“She didn’t want to accept that fact that they’d be fine without her,” Morse said. “They hibernate when there is no food.”

Her former students are trying to find a mental health professional to appear with her in court.