If You Leave Your Dog For Dead on Top of a Mountain, Should You Get Her Back?

Posted on August 30, 2012


Before you read any farther, yes, the dog is fine.  That was my first concern so I thought I’d get it out of the way for you right up front.  But while this is one of those stories that warms the heart of an animal-lover, it also just makes you want to scream.

Here’s the Cliffs Notes version:  On 4 August, Anthony Ortolani takes his German Shepherd, Missy, and a friend’s teenage son mountain climbing with him on Mount Bierstadt, in Colorado.  Near the summit, at about 13,000 feet, Missy’s paw pads are so badly cut that she can’t go on.  It’s getting late, and a snowstorm is threatening.  The dog weighs over a hundred pounds.  Ortolani makes the tough call to leave his dog at 13,000 feet and get the teenager to safety.

So far, this is understandable.  It’s what happened next that got people up in arms.  Ortolani called the sheriff’s office and 911 in attempts to get help for Missy, but was told that those resources are reserved for human rescues.  He searched the Internet to see if anyone had found a dog on the mountain, but found nothing.  So he felt really, really bad, but that was that.  He assumed she was probably dead.

Eight days later, on the 11th, a pair of hikers, completely by chance, found Missy.  They took her picture, gave her food and water, and tried to bandage her wounds, but like Ortolani, they had no hope of carrying her down the mountain.  So they left with heavy hearts.  But that’s where any similarity to Ortolani stops.  This couple, Scott and Amanda Washburn, rallied volunteer hikers who scoured the mountain beginning near midnight that very night, but failed to find her.  But they did not give up.  They went back again on the 13th, and – found her.  They put her in an oversized backpack and took turns carrying her down the mountain.  She has been under the care of a veterinarian since then.   The Washburns would like to adopt her.

Ortolani got wind of the rescue, and wants his dog back.  Instead, he was charged with possible animal cruelty.  Missy’s fate – and Ortolani’s fate, regarding the charges – will be decided by a court in October.

I think Ortolani made the right call to get the teenager to safety, even at the cost of leaving his beloved dog.  I believe that he loves his dog, and I am sure he felt horrible thinking she was probably dead up on that mountain.  But that’s just it:  he had left her alive, but never went back up there looking for her.  His devotion to her well-being fell short.  Far, far short of what eight total strangers were willing to do for her.

I’m not convinced that he deserves to be convicted of animal cruelty, but I am convinced that he should not regain custody of Missy.  He gave up custody when he left her for dead.