Colorado Hiker Who Abandoned Injured Dog Relinquishes Custody

Anthony Ortolani has received death threats for leaving Missy on a mountain.

ByABC News
September 17, 2012, 10:33 AM

Sept. 17, 2012 — -- The Colorado climber criticized for abandoning his injured dog on a mountain has agreed to give up custody of the dog to one of its rescuers.

Anthony Ortolani, 29, originally said he wanted custody of his dog Missy when she was rescued by a team of hikers after surviving eight days on the mountain. Since then, Ortolani has received intense criticism and even death threats over his decision.

He was charged with animal cruelty and is relinquishing custody as part of a plea bargain, according to ABC News' Denver affiliate KMGH. The plea bargain will allow him to plead guilty to the lesser offense of a county ordinance.

Ortolani was climbing on Mount Bierstadt with his 5-year-old German shepherd and Rottweiler mix on Aug. 5 when he said a storm moved in and he became worried for his safety and for the safety of his friend. Missy's feet were cut up from walking on jagged rocks and she could no longer walk.

Ortolani said that he and his 19-year-old friend tried to carry the 112-pound dog for more than two hours on the treacherous terrain before making the difficult decision to abandon the dog in order to save themselves.

When they reached the bottom, Ortolani said he had a friend call the sheriff's office, but deputies said they couldn't send a rescue crew for a dog.

"Having trained, professional, well-equipped people saying it's too risky to go up there to get a dog out of there, I couldn't see the responsibility or how it would make sense for me to get untrained, unequipped, not professional people to go risk their lives to get the dog," Ortolani said at a news conference on Sunday.

Ortolani conceded that he did not put a sign up on a bulletin board asking to be contacted if anyone saw his dog, KMGH reported.

On Aug. 11, Scott and Amanda Washburn were hiking in the area spotted the dying dog tucked into a nook between rocks. The dog was too weak, injured and heavy to be carried down so the couple used a first aid kit to patch up as many wounds as possible before going back down the mountain for help.

The couple started an online campaign to rescue Missy, creating a Facebook page and pleading for help on a hikers' online forum 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 couple got a group of eight volunteers to go back to the mountain a few days later and the group traveled through a severe snowstorm to reach Missy. Nine hours later, they successfully brought the dog down in an oversized hiking backpack.

"I just don't think that his actions have shown that he is a responsible dog owner," Scott 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."

Missy will soon have a new home with one of her rescuers.