About 13,500 feet above the ground, among the snow-capped peaks of Mount Bierstadt in Colorado, Scott Washburn and his wife, Amanda, found an abandoned, dying German shepherd dog.
Washburn and his wife this past Saturday, Aug. 11, were on a leisurely hike up Mount Bierstadt in Clear Creek County, a 14,000-foot peak near Denver that is categorized as a “14er” because, as Washburn said, “the peak is over 14,000 feet high and considered a Class 3, meaning it is not the most difficult – but it’s too difficult for a dog to be on it or an inexperienced person.
“We were hiking to this ridge and we got off course and I was a little ahead of my wife,” he said. “She called out to me and said, ‘Hey I found a dog,’ and figured I misheard her ’cause there was no way a dog was where we were.”
Washburn and his wife were incredulous at how this dog, tucked into a tiny nook between rocks, could have ended up where it was. The whimpering dog was, as Washburn said, “in awful shape.” He was convinced it would have died if left without food or water for much longer. The couple tried to coax the dog up out of the rocks and down the mountain but it was clear the dog was too injured and weak to move.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to get her out by herself,” said Washburn. “Her paws were completely raw and her elbows were torn up.”
The dog weighed more than 100 pounds and was too heavy to carry down the mountain, so the Washburns used their first aid kit to try to patch up as many of the dog’s wounds as they could. They then left the dog, with water, on a leveled boulder in hopes of being able to find it when they returned with help.
Farther down the mountain, the Washburns ran into a Forest Service ranger who expressed sadness and regret that he could not offer any help on behalf of the forest rangers.
“My wife broke down crying at the thought of leaving the dog to die,” said Washburn.
So the two called everyone they could think of. They started a Facebook page and posted a plea for help on a hikers’ forum website called 14ers. Reactions and volunteers began to pour in, as well as an overwhelming amount of posts from the online community infuriated by the apparent abandonment of the dog for dead on the cold cliffs.
The discussion grew so heated that it was locked by the site administrator to prevent further comments on Wednesday “until things simmer down,” according to local ABC News affiliate, ABC 7 News, The Denver Channel.
Washburn got together a group of eight volunteers and the group headed back up the mountain that Monday morning. The group found the dog with all of its wounds Washburn had tried to bandage reopened. The rocks around the dog were covered in blood, and the dog was back cowering beneath the surrounding rocks.
The group of eight hikers traveled through a full-blown snowstorm that broke out during their hike. Eventually, after a nine-hour rescue mission, the group successfully managed to bring back the broken and bruised dog in a hiker’s oversized backpack.
Upon their return, the hikers entrusted the dog to a local vet, who told Washburn that it was “the miracle dog of the century, and although she was severely dehydrated she has, miraculously, no long-term or permanent damage.”
Soon, the rescuers learned the dog’s name is Missy and her owner is 29-year-old Anthony Ortolani.
Ortolani told The Denver Channel that he was forced to leave his pet on the mountain Aug. 5, when a storm moved in and he became worried for the safety of a younger hiker who was with him. He said his dog’s feet were cut up from walking on sharp rocks and it could no longer walk.
“I just don’t think that his actions have shown that he is a responsible dog owner,” Washburn said. “We understand that he had to leave her there. My wife and I did the same thing. But we ended up going back for her, and we went to some pretty extreme lengths to do so. In my opinion, that is not a responsible dog owner, who doesn’t really care about her.”
Washburn and his wife, as well as other members of the rescue team, would now like to adopt Missy, Washburn said. But Ortolani is asking for his dog back.
Missy remains at the veterinarian’s office until she completely recovers. After that, she will be handed over to animal control officials at the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office.
Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rick Safe said the issue is under investigation to determine whether Ortolani is guilty of cruelty to an animal.
“The dog was basically abandoned up there,” Safe said. “He [Ortolani] made no initial attempt. After three days, he thought the dog was deceased so he made no attempts to reclaim the dog.”
The sheriff’s department also has a rescue team, and other hikers told them about Missy being stranded on Mount Bierstadt during the weekend. However, the rescue team was unable to respond because it is solely reserved for human rescues.
“We can’t specifically send a rescue effort for a dog,” Safe said. “We have a designated rescue team. In the last two weeks we have had six rescues, one a day on the weekends, for people. It is tough terrain out there.”
For now, Missy is on the road to recovery and an animal control officer from Clear Creek County will pursue the investigation by interviewing Ortolani.
ABC News’ efforts to reach Ortolani were unsuccessful.