DAPHNE SUPPLEE, 16, (left) and her mother Rachel Supplee, both of Hartsgrove Township, shared a terrible ordeal last May during a bear attack.

The rustle of leaves sent a chill up Rachel Supplee's neck. Something was behind her.

"It was nothing, just some leaves in the wind. But to me, it was another bear," she said.

Rachel Supplee has had a year of healing since she was attacked in her home by a 500-pound black bear.

The bear, which had escaped from it's enclosure at Grand River Fur Exchange crashed into the family home in Hartsgrove Township, and attacked Supplee. Her daughter, Daphne, lured the bear away from her mother with lunch meat from the refrigerator.

Bleeding and critically wounded, Rachel Supplee crawled out of the home. Daphne Supplee escaped as the bear snacked on the meat.

Nearly a year later, both Daphne and Rachel Supplee have a lot of healing left to do.

"I am still not working and my ribs are never going to heal. I still have a lot of pain," Rachel Supplee said.

Rachel Supplee suffered several broken ribs, deep lacerations all over her body, a broken wrist and her ear was nearly torn off in the attack. She also suffers from back and shoulder pain.

Rachel Supplee's health insurance ran out shortly after the attack and with the family down to just one income, she is foregoing necessary surgeries.

"(Bear owner) Mark Gutman never even called me. I have filed a lawsuit, but I know I won't ever get a dime from him," she said.

Rachel Supplee is also suffering emotionally.

"I used to really love animals and now I am scared of them; even dogs," Rachel Supplee said. "This is a real struggle I am scared all the time," she said.

Her fears even moved her out of the family's Hartsgrove Township home.

"I just want it to be over and now it seems like it is never going to end. When (the attack) first happened I would stay in my room and cry. I was even afraid to open my door or go outside," she said.

The law, Rachel Supplee said, hasn't been on her side.

Ashtabula County Prosecutor Thomas Sartini said Gutman did not violate any laws in his operation of Grand River Fur Exchange, where he keeps foxes, coyotes, bobcats, wolf-hybrids, black bears, mountain lions and a lynx.

With no criminal charges against Gutman, Rachel Supplee has filed a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation for damages.

"(Gutman) has 902 animals on his farm, including big cats. I hear rumors that sometimes a cat will get loose in the neighborhood. I can't stay at the house knowing those animals are around and that (Gutman) hasn't done anything to cage them up better," Rachel Supplee said.

Gutman couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

Now Rachel Supplee, with the help of State Sen. Tim Grendell and State Rep. George Distel, D-Conneaut, is lobbying for a new law requiring taller fences and thicker cages for caged wildlife.

"Every one of those places should have to carry at least $250,000 in insurance. I am not saying that I hate animals or that these wildlife farms don't have a place, but they have to be responsible," Rachel Supplee said. "This has been a real struggle for me and for my family. We know we have to work to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," she said.

Gutman shot and killed the bear after the attack, but Rachel Supplee is still scared.

"That leaf blowing across the road scared me to death. It was just a leaf, but to me it was another bear," Rachel Supplee said. "This isn't something that is just going to go away. I have a huge claw mark across my stomach that will be there forever," she said.

Donations can be made to the Rachel M. Supplee Benevolent Fund at any KeyBank location.

- - MARGIE TRAX PAGE - Staff Writer

Star Beacon Print Edition: 3/4/2007

Click here to order our 3/4/2007 Archive edition.

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