Owner gives up dog left stranded in mountains

A man charged with animal cruelty for abandoning his dog on a Colorado mountain last month has agreed to give up ownership of the canine to one of her rescuers while pleading guilty to a lesser charge. 

"I don't want to give her up — I love her — but those people risked life and limb to get her out of there, and that has got to be worth something," Anthony Ortolani, the dog’s owner, told KMGH-TV in Denver.

Missy, a 5-year-old German shepherd/Rottweiler mix, was close to death after spending eight days alone on the mountain after Ortolani, 31, and his climbing companion left the dog behind on Aug. 3. Inclement weather was on the horizon and the dog was unable to walk because of blisters on her feet. Ortolani and the 19-year-old son of a friend tried to carry the 112-pound dog for two hours before deciding to leave her on the mountain to make it to safety.

Ortolani was charged with animal cruelty but will plead guilty to a lesser local ordinance, his attorney, Jennifer Edwards, told The Denver Post. Giving up Missy was discussed as part of the plea deal, but was not the reason for Ortolani’s decision, his attorney said. The exact rescuer who will assume ownership of the dog was not made public.

“He loved that dog, and this is an incredibly hard decision for him,” Edwards told the Los Angeles Times. “But he realizes that for her safety and for the safety of his family, it’s better to give her up.”

Ortolani said Sunday that he received death threats after the story became public following Missy’s rescue by a team of volunteers on Mount Bierstadt, a 14,000-foot mountain in Clear Creek County, Colo. Ortolani paid nearly $5,000 in veterinary bills related to the injuries suffered by Missy, who had climbed more than a dozen peaks in Colorado with him before the incident, according to Edwards.

“He’s gotten letters and calls that he’s cruel and has no right to the animal,” Edwards told the Los Angeles Times. “People have said if he ever gets the dog back, his family will never be safe.”

"Carrying her down unfortunately caused her more injury," Ortolani told KMGH-TV. "She fought with me and squirmed off my shoulders, and I dropped her on some rocks and she got hurt worse. Everybody says, 'Why didn't you go back?' My physical condition was significantly deteriorated, my emotional condition was no good. I thought she was dead.

"I've always wanted nothing but the best for her, and that's why I take her everywhere with me.’’

The dog was severely dehydrated and had to be treated with antibiotics for infections from lacerations on its paws and elsewhere. A couple of hikers discovered the dog on Aug. 11 but could not carry the dog down, so they bandaged her bloody paws and left her with water before a team of volunteers was assembled to rescue her. The rescuers transported Missy to safety in an oversized backpack in a mission that took a full day and was documented in a series of photos on 14ers, an online hiking forum.

“I am not proud of leaving Missy,’’ Ortolano wrote on the forum after he was identified as the dog’s owner. “I did what I thought was right at the time to protect myself and the teenager that I was with. People say that I should have stayed there and sent my friends [sic] son to get help. I was responsible for him, and I was not leaving him there alone with clouds growing over Bierstadt, and I was not going to send him off alone with absolutely no cell service.”

Ortolani contacted the Sheriff’s Office in the days after leaving the dog on the mountain but was informed that they did not have the manpower or equipment needed to find and rescue Missy.