A German shepherd dog was found injured and abandoned August 11 on the Mount Bierstadt mountain range, part of the majestic Rockies, in Colorado. Two hikers, Scott and Amanda Washburn, discovered the dog they came to call Lucky, with bloody paws, dehydrated and unable to walk. “My wife broke down crying at the thought of leaving the dog to die,” said Washburn.
Mount Bierstadt is over 14,000 feet in elevation. The Washburns were unable to carry the 112 pound dog down the mountain. They applied bandages to her paws in an attempt to help the dog walk, but she still refused.
Determined to try and save the suffering pooch, Washburn posted a photo they had taken of her on a social website for hikers called 14ers.com — a local reference to the Mount Bierstadt mountain range having an altitude of 14,000 feet. Within a day, people had volunteered to attempt a rescue. A group of eight people organized and made a plan. On Monday, August 13, they hiked to where she was last seen and eventually found the dog in almost the same exact spot.
The round trip took about nine hours. All volunteers were able to get the dog down the mountain with no injuries. Putting Lucky in a specially made backpack enabled the dog to be carried off the mountain in safety. Once at the bottom, she managed to walk to a vehicle. The GSD was taken to a veterinarian for examination and discovered not to have any fractures or internal injuries. Dehydration and cuts on her paws was the extent of it.
Lucky’s Owner Comes Forward
In response to all the activity on 14ers.com, the dog’s owner, Anthony Ortalani, came forward to explain why he left her on the mountain. Ortalani was hiking with a friend’s teenage son on the Mount Bierstadt mountain range August 5. This confirmed the dog had been left on the mountain — injured and with no food or water — for a week before being spotted by the Washburns.
Missy – Ortalani’s name for his dog – had cut her paws and would not walk down the range. Ortalani claims he tried to carry her for two hours but could not safely get her moving. Since a storm was coming in, he made the difficult decision to leave Missy there as he felt responsible to return the teenager safely to his family. He said he “felt [it] was a survival situation.”
Once off the mountain, Ortalani says he called police to report Missy’s plight and ask for help in rescuing her, only to be told search and rescue (SAR) teams are not dispatched for animals. He convinced himself Missy couldn’t have survived and assumed she was dead. When he became aware of the amazing rescue, he posted on 14ers.com. “I am the owner of the German Shepard girl found on Mt. Bierstadt,” said Ortalani. “I am at a complete loss of words. My gratitude for the people involved in this is without measure.”
Ortalani goes on to describe how Missy became injured and how he tried to get her off the mountain. “I dropped her once and I almost fell once too and I realized that I couldn’t carry her off of the mountain” wrote Ortalini. “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 [SIC].”
He gives further explanation:
I’ll admit that while trying to get off of the the mountain I was not as concerned because I was focused on making it safely off of the mountain, but once I was safely at my car I was overwhelmed with the loss, and the decision to leave her there. The next couple of days was absolutely horrible wondering about her, if she was alive, or if she died. Thinking about her suffering was awful beyond words. Many confidants comforted me by saying that she was probably gone from injury. 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 and to 9news. I humbly beg the forgiveness of the community and most of all my Missy Girl. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
An additional post shows a more contrite communication:
I am reading through all of these threads, and I am just in awe of how heroic and amazing everyone is that did this. I also see all of the anger and hatred towards me and the decision that I made. I feel that I deserve it all. I made it in a panic to be sure, and what I felt was a survival situation. I didn’t think to post on 14er’s.com to ask for everyone to come fix my colossal mistake in judgement. It is truly amazing that all of you did it on your own. I don’t have proper words. It was several days before I would have even been able to even think of walking back up Bierstadt much less into the sawtooth and to try and carry Missy out, and after that I just thought it would be to late. I honestly never thought that I could just ask strangers to go check the sawtooth and carry my 112lb German Shepard out. I don’t know what to say. Thank you again to the community, and to those who are angry I am so so sorry. Missy has done 6 14′ers and she loves being out there in the mountains. She depends on me to make smart choices, and taking her into the sawtooth was beyond foolish.
Custody Battle for Missy
The Washburns had decided to try and adopt the dog they call Lucky. With Ortalani coming forward to claim her and explain his decision to abandon her, he has now been charged with animal cruelty by the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department. A court date had been scheduled for October 16, at which time it is expected the judge will rule on custody of Missy. If convicted, Ortalani could face an 18 month prison term and a $5,000 fine.
Currently, Missy remains at the veterinary hospital. When she is fully recovered, she will be taken to the county animal shelter until the court determines a disposition.
What is your opinion about Missy?
Most pet guardians would like to believe if faced with a similar situation, they would not have abandoned their own dog. But, in all fairness, until you are faced with an actual situation, I don’t think anyone can say with absolute certainty which decision they would have made. Many Hurricane Katrina pet owners chose to stay with their pets during the 2005 tragedy rather than abandon them for their own safety. Yet, many also left them to their fate on rooftops or elsewhere. Can you really say for sure what you would have done? Watch the CBS News video and draw your own conclusions.
The good news is Missy is safe and healthy. Although the ordeal was no doubt emotionally traumatic for her, her physical injuries will heal.
A huge thank-you goes out to Scott Washburn and all the other hikers who put their heads together and devised a plan to rescue Missy from an impossible situation and then carried it out successfully. What a selfless act it was. Kudos too, to the website 14ers.com for making the effort possible. The internet can be a dangerous place for too trusting an individual, but look at the wonderful goodness it can achieve!
Photos of Missy/Lucky from Facebook