In mid-August, a dog made headlines after her owner abandoned her on the top of a mountain. Missy managed to survive over a week in the elements while suffering from grave injuries before a group of hikers and climbers came to her rescue, carrying her down from the summit in a large backpack.
Since her dramatic rescue from the top of Colorado’s Mt. Bierstadt August 11, German Shepherd mix Missy has been staying at the Clear Creek County Animal Shelter. Outside the shelter’s walls, a battle over who should have custody of Missy rages on.
Missy’s owner, Anthony Ortolani, faces animal cruelty charges for leaving his wounded dog stranded on the peak of the 14,000-foot mountain. Ortolani has been skewered by a public who believes that he is unfit to care for Missy. But Ortolani spoke at a press conference Sunday afternoon in hopes that people could understand his side of the story.
“A lot of people feel empowered to drive this thing,” Ortolani said. The experienced mountaineer explained that he did not want to leave Missy on the mountain, but when she was unable to walk, he was forced to abandon her in order to help his 19-year-old climbing partner get to safety during an approaching storm. In fact, Ortolani says that he and his climbing partner attempted to carry his 112-pound German Shepherd for two hours before making the difficult choice to leave Missy, who was unable to walk on her own.
After leaving Missy on Mt. Bierstadt, Ortolani says that he did contact rescue personnel, but that he was told that a rescue mission to save an animal was impossible. In his mind, said Ortolani, Missy was lost forever.
“I appreciate their compassion,” Ortolani said of his critics, “but they weren’t there that day… This should have been an amazing story of survival,” he insisted.
Two of Ortolani’s biggest critics are Scott and Amanda Washburn, the husband-and-wife hiking pair that first discovered Missy on Mount Bierstadt. The Washburns orchestrated the eight-person rescue operation that ultimately saved Missy’s life, and they are hoping to be allowed to adopt the dog that they saved.
After enduring a month of blistering disparagement, Ortolani says that he has had enough, and that if living with the Washburns would get his dog out of the county shelter, then he will agree to give up custody of Missy.
“I don’t want to give her up,” Ortolani told The Denver Post Sunday of Missy, whom he adopted when she was only a few months old. “I love her, but those people risked life and limb to get her out of there and that has got to be worth something,” he said. “They won’t even let me see her,” Ortolani said of the shelter where Missy has lived for the past month.
Ortolani is being represented by attorney Jennifer Edwards, founder of The Animal Law Center.
“Mr. Ortolani wants the best for Missy,” Edwards explained. “I took this case because I want to see some changes in how mountain communities handle this type of situation.”
“We would hope that there be some sort of process in place to assist animal owners who choose to take their beloved pets up into the mountains,” Edwards added.
Missy’s eight rescuers, including the Washburns, will appear as guests on the Ellen DeGeneres Show September 17.
Meanwhile, Anthony Ortolani awaits his day in court. He is scheduled to appear before a judge October 16. Edwards has arranged a tentative plea deal with the Clear Creek County District Attorney’s office. She explains that her client will plead guilty to a minor Clear Creek County ordinance violation, NBC 9 News reports.