By STACY MILLBERG
HARTSGROVE TOWNSHIP - - Chrisy and Chris Stoltz have lived across the street from Mark Gutman, owner of Grand River Fur Exchange, for 13 years and never have felt they were in any danger.
The Stoltzes, along with several other community members, agree that there has been a lot of negative reporting since one of Gutman's bears got loose from its cage last week and mauled 36-year-old Rachel Supplee. The Stoltzes are upset about comments made by Dan Chase, who lives next door to Gutman.
"Not everyone in the Hartsgrove community agrees with Dan Chase," Chrisy Stoltz said. "He is not a spokesperson for the community."
Chris Stoltz said the Gutmans always have been good neighbors and have done a lot of good for the community.
"He is being tried and convicted in the public eye, and it's not right," he said.
"It was a tragic accident and that's just what it was: an accident," Chrisy Stoltz said. "We do not like to bad-mouth people, but if we had to say who the better neighbor was, Dan Chase has not been a good neighbor. I don't want to bad-mouth him because that would make me no better than he is."
In the 13 years the Stoltzes have lived across the street from Gutman, they said they never have had to deal with his animals getting loose and running into their yard.
Beth Sacerich has two sons who have worked for Gutman.
"I myself, as a mother, would never put my children at harm," she said. "I see the care they put into these animals."
Sacerich said she never has seen one of Gutman's animals be abused or starved.
"With all of the publicity, I think everyone has forgotten this was an accident," she said. "This is the worst accident that could have happened, but it is the first time anything like this has happened."
Gutman has been in business for 28 years, she said. Sacerich's son Richard, who worked for Gutman for about two years, said the animals do not wear bags for the collection of urine. Instead, the cages are suspended from the rafters in the ceiling, and the urine drains from the cages into a gutter system.
"They are not sitting in urine or feces," he said. "Nothing sits in the cages. All of the cages are off the ground."
The bear cages have slanted concrete floors, and the urine flows into the gutter system and buckets and is then collected, Richard Sacerich said.
Trent Bosse, who also worked for Gutman, has known him for 25 to 30 years. He said in the time he has known him, Gutman always has put his animals first.
"It was always his top priority to take care of them," he said.
Bosse said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources visits Gutman's property regularly, performing routine checks.
"As far as I know, everything was up to snuff there," he said. "It's his business. Anything it would take to run his business, I'm sure, he would have had there." Chrisy Stoltz said it was never a secret about what type of business Gutman ran.
"He's not a bad person because of this accident," she said. "If he thought his cages were inadequate, he would have made them better. I don't think he would want to put himself, or this community, in danger."
"I'm not trying to belittle what happened," Chris Stoltz said. "He's (Gutman) got guilt with this, I'm sure. He's going to have to live with this and may lose his livelihood, and that's tragic in itself. He didn't do it on purpose; he didn't let that animal loose."
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