Bear-Feeding Woman, 81, Arrested for Feeding Birds

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 07, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An elderly Florida woman has moved on from feeding bears to feeding birds, in violation of probation.

81-year-old Mary Musselman was on probation for feeding bears. Now she's being held without bail for violating her probation by feeding crows, Tampa's WTVT-TV reports.

If you're an animal lover, you might think this is mean. But when you learn why she was arrested, you might feel otherwise.

Lesson 1: Don't Feed Bears

In Florida, like in many other states, feeding bears and other wild animals is illegal.

Wildlife officers warned Musselman in November not to feed wild animals after they had to euthanize a black bear she had been feeding. That's right, the bear died because she was feeding the animals.

Musselman was arrested in January when she was caught violating probation by feeding bears in and near her backyard after being warned to stop by a judge multiple times, Tampa's WFTS-TV reports.

"Feeding bears results in bears losing their fear of people," explained Gary Morse, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission spokesperson told WFTS. Once that happens, bears cannot be relocated because the behaviors interrupt the animal's natural instincts, he added.

Lesson 2: Don't Feed Wild Birds Either

Officers issued a new arrest warrant after checking on Musselman's home and discovering that she has been leaving bread out for crows, WTVT reports.

As common as it is for people to feed birds with bread crumbs, unfortunately for Musselman, doing so violated her court order not to feed any wild animals.

Lesson 3: You Can Be Held Without Bail, Even if Mentally Ill

The tragic part of this story is that Musselman's attorney says she suffers from Alzheimer's disease and dementia. He is requesting the court to place her in alternate housing, suggesting her brother's home in Illinois.

It's a tricky situation because the judge needs to balance her mental state with public safety. The judge has ordered a complete mental evaluation. In the meantime, however, Musselman will remain behind bars without bail, reports WTVT.

Considering her latest offense was feeding crows with bread crumbs -- something relatively benign on the wild-animal-feeding spectrum -- the truly "legally weird" issue here seems to be the judge's decision to have a (most likely) mentally ill elderly person held without bail, not her propensity to feed animals.

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