Custody Fight Brews for Dog Left on 14,000-Foot Mountain

Missy's owner left her and never went back up to find her. Those who rescued her want to give her a new home


Last week, hiker Scott Washburn stumbled upon a German Shepherd dog who had seemingly been abandoned in a very unusual place: near the top of 14,000-foot Mount Bierstadt, near Denver.

“She wasn’t making any noise. My wife just about stepped on her,” Washburn told The Huffington Post. “It was just really weird, and definitely not a place for a dog to be.”

Washburn couldn’t rescue the dog himself — the dog’s paws were bleeding, and she was having trouble breathing — but they gave her food and water, and he took the dog’s picture. Back home, after emergency crews failed to take on the rescue because no humans were involved, Washburn posted the photo on hiking website

Chase Lindell saw that picture. He and his friends immediately began planning a rescue mission after seeking information about where the hiker saw the dog. It seemed like a long-shot, to be sure, but he had to do it.

“Just the thought of a dog being left up there, I mean I figured it is worth a chance to try to go find it,” he told KUSA-TV.

On the second rescue attempt to find the dog, eight men, including Washburn, went up the mountain. Nearly three hours later, amazingly, they spotted the dog.

“The dog seemed really weak and it couldn’t move much at all,” Lindell told KUSA-TV. “And given the terrain, there was no way the dog was walking out of there. So, we were able to get the dog into a backpack.”

It was a good thing: A snow squall hit, and Lindell and the team had a rough climb down, but they eventually got the dog to a vet. She’s expected to make a full recovery, being treated for dehydration and injured paws. But after they posted the story of the rescue on the site, they saw a strange posting, from a man claiming to be the the dog’s owner. It read, in part:

At this point I made the decision that I honestly never thought I would even be faced with. I left her there so that my friend and I could get down safely with intentions of calling S & R when we were off of the mountian. All I can say is that I am relieved that she is okay, I am ashamed that it was not me that started this thread, I am ashamed that it wasn’t me who got her off of the mountain, I underestimated the good will and resolve of the hiking community of Colorado, and I am eternally grateful to all of you.

It’s not clear whether the owner did in fact contact emergency crews or whether they refused to help. But it’s clear that the dog — Missy, according to the owner — spent eight days on the mountain before being rescued. The owner did not hike back up the mountain to search for the dog. Or post photos or her, or get resourceful in any way. He just assumed she died.

That has rankled the hiking community in Colorado, especially those who rescued the dog. They don’t want the dog to go back to the person who abandoned her, and a custody battle is shaping up. Jennifer Edwards, an attorney and founder of the Animal Law Center, told KUSA-TV, “This is a case about an animal’s welfare. … Certainly with the facts that I’ve read, this is going to be a very emotional and maybe even litigious case.”

What do you think? Should Missy be kept from her owner, who failed to act resourcefully enough to save the dog? Or are the members of the rescue team overstepping their bounds, even with the best intentions?

UPDATE: Missy’s owner, Anthony Joseph Ortolani, has been charged with animal cruelty, reports the Daily Mail.

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