Pups and 14ers

Alright y’all, so here is the deal…and it’s going to be long!

I am pretty sure that this news story has turned into a nationwide sensation, but in case it is only circulating in Colorado, let me fill you in on the details.

The story begins a few weeks back when a local hiker was climbing the Sawtooth Ridge between Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt, two 14ers here in Colorado. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you may remember my post last summer when I climbed the exact same ridge. In fact, the Sawtooth is considered a *classic* climb when speaking of any 14er routes. The rock is solid, there is a bit of exposure but nothing crazy, and it provides hikers with a little introductory prep before attempting some of the more technical climbs on other 14ers. For this reason, I love the route.

The Sawtooth Ridge

However, the one drawback to the Sawtooth is the fact that poor Tals cannot come. The route is too technical at a class 3, and any time I see a route that may involve my hands (instead of only my feet), I know that it is not suitable for dogs. Period.

Apparently, Anthony Ortalani didn’t feel the same way, and took his dog Missy, an adorable German Shepherd, on the hike with him. Missy’s paws blistered while she was hiking the ridge with Ortalani, and she could no longer walk. I’m not going into details about how this guy is an idiot for taking his poor dog on the ridge to begin with; what’s done is done. However, once Missy’s paws burned and blistered (a common problem on 14ers– the same thing happened to Tals here!), he chose to abandon her on the ridge. A storm was blowing in and when he realized Missy couldn’t walk, he just left her there.

That in itself is a touchy subject with me. Clearly, this man was not prepared to be on a 14er and he demonstrated that by taking his dog on a route that she had no way to navigate. This should have been common knowledge. I know this route is impossible for dogs to cross; in fact, I was stuck in a similar situation back in 2004. We found a couple stranded on the ridge because their dog had panicked and they couldn’t get her down. We spent the rest of the day caravanning the poor pup to the basin below.

The pic of Missy that was circulated on the web. Source.

However, I do begrudgingly understand that Ortalani needed to get off the ridge with the storm, so I suppose I can understand his need for self-preservation, even if it came at the expense of Missy. He even contacted search-and-rescue but was told that they didn’t deal with animal rescues. Unfortunately, I can somewhat stomach the story up until this point. But the kicker? He never came back for his dog. Not the next day, not ever. He left Missy on the ridge, assuming she didn’t survive the bad weather that rolled in.

A few days later, a couple different hikers crossed the ridge and found Missy. They were unable to get the poor dog down, but they took a picture of her and placed it on 14ers website, detailing where she was. Immediately, a group of good samaritans got together to attempt a rescue mission of Missy. On August 6, eight men headed up to the Sawtooth in order to save Missy.


It took them all day, but they eventually got the German Shepherd off the ridge and down to safety. These men even managed to get her down through a snow squall! They took her to the vet where they were told that she suffered from severe dehydration and multiple injuries to her paws. Missy had survived eight days on the ridge.

However, now that Missy is down, recovering, and safe, Ortalani wants her back. And as of today, he now faces animal cruelty charges because of the way he abandoned her. The story has been circulating Colorado like wildfire because it covers two things that are very special to natives: dogs and 14ers. Practically everyone in this state owns at least one of the former, and the latter are Colorado’s claim to fame.

The group that got Missy down. Source.

When I first heard this story and saw the above picture of Missy, it almost broke my heart. Y’all know how incredibly special Tally is to me and I literally cannot fathom abandoning her on the ridge. Even if I force myself to consider leaving her somewhere due to personal safety, there is no chance in hell that I wouldn’t be back up there first thing the very next morning to find her. I find it horrifying that this man honestly thinks he should get his dog back, after leaving her to die at 13,000+ feet, for over a week. In fact, it absolutely infuriates me. I understand that he did what he needed to do; however, I don’t understand why he didn’t come back for her?

Where do you stand on the issue?

Do you think its a case for animal cruelty?

Have you ever run into issues in the backcountry/camping/hiking/etc. with pets?


  • Reply Shannon at

    He definitely doesn’t deserve the dog back, in my opinion.

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    I’m with you in that it infuriates me. Yes, this is animal cruelty hands down. Taking his dog on a climb that shouldn’t be done by dogs is one thing. Leaving the dog up there seals the deal. What an idiot. The only thing that’s redeeming about this story is the group of samaritans that rescued the poor pup.

  • Reply eric at

    I wrote about this last night on your facebook page. It shows a lot of huge mistakes being made… I can’t understand this guy. He was not prepared to be on the mountain. I am like you with my dog, he goes everywhere with me, but I would never put him in danger… and some peaks, some trails are too dangerous for dogs. He should not get his dog back. He never even went back to check. I would have slept at the base of the mountain and gone up as soon as all was clear… and he had no way to get the dog down? Poor planning.

    • Reply Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal at

      I can’t say that I always hike with a contingency plan for Tals in terms of how I would get her down. However, I do always have a backpack and my leatherman– you better believe I would have cut hole in the bottom of my pack and figured out some way to put her in it!

  • Reply Steph-Fit Mom in Training at

    This story makes me sad. Leaving that poor dog up there is essentially relinquishing his rights to be an owner. It’s his responsibility to care for that animal, not abandon it. If I left one of my kids like that, I sure wouldn’t be getting them back. I could understand if he went back the following morning or as soon as it was clear enough to do so but for that long? I don’t think so.

    • Reply Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal at

      That’s what really got me– why didn’t he go back up there the next morning? He made an assumption that was pretty ridiculous and stupid. Grrr.

  • Reply lazymarathoner at

    I absolutely think this is a case of animal cruelty and he should be charged as such. At the very least he should not be allowed to have her back; that dog (and any animal) deserves a better home. What a jerk. But what a great group to rescue her – so glad they were able to rescue Missy! I hope she finds the home she deserves.

  • Reply pen (pen at peace) at

    This makes me sick to my stomach. I live for my dogs and I find it hard to imagine a scenario when I would leave them to die, self-preservation or not. The truth is–they would never leave me to die so how could I do that to them. It seems incredibly reckless and criminally negligent to embark on a 14er with your dog without having done the proper research to know if your dog could handle that climb.

    I’m a firm believer that this man not only should not get his dog back but should not be allowed to own another dog. Ever. Period.

  • Reply mountainkait.com at

    So sickening! He should not be getting his dog back. Clearly he does not have sense about owning a dog. First, we don’t bring our dogs out on the trails-14ers or not-if we know that they are not in a condition to walk, hike, run them. Secondly, we turn around if we see they are injured-abort the trip. If it is so important to finish the trip, then just don’t bring a dog. It’s like having a kid. I could go on for days about this person and their priorities. Incredibly frustrating. At the same moment, the rescue is incredibly touching. What a great and admirable group of people. I hope that one of them gets to adopt Missy as their own now.

  • Reply Julie Arts at

    I got absolutely nauseated reading this story. He most definitely should not get her back. I can’t imagine not going back for her.

  • Reply Kara at

    What a horrible thing to do! I can’t imagine ever just leaving poor Peanut. I wonder if Missy is heartbroken. That’s the only reason I could see returning her. Dogs can really mourn if separated from their owners, even if their owners are complete dumbasses.

    • Reply Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal at

      I did think about that– she may miss her family. Plus, I do think the owner loved her because he was taking her hiking– usually negligent owners don’t take their pups on beautiful mountain excursions! However, he made some poor choices that seriously make me question his intelligence.

  • Reply Danielle at

    HELL NO that moron shouldn’t get his dog back! Losing your dog because you leave the gate to the fence open and he gets out or having your dog run away is one thing- pay your fee at animal control and don’t do it again. But complete and udder negligence in combination with total stupidity? This guy should be sterilized so he never has the opportunity to do something this heinous to his future children.

    And I agree with what Kara said, but if the guy treats his dog like this, then chances are the bond between pet and owner isn’t really there in the first place.

    Maybe he should try a pet goldfish instead.

    (sorry, I get heated over these things- working at a humane society does that to a person)

  • Reply Liz at

    I don’t think I could ever leave Leela – even if I was putting my own life at risk. I was once out on a trail run with her (in DC) and she tore her Achilles. I had to carry her a mile plus back to the car, and as I was reading this story last week I was very thankful to have a 40 pound dog.
    I don’t understand how he could have been semi-experienced (as in done 5 14ers) and think this was OK for his dog. And don’t get me started on how he didn’t take any real action when he got down.
    I’m torn on whether or not he should get her back – a part of me wonders if he was just in serious shock and too depressed to think clearly. That is the only somewhat acceptable explanation I can think of. It that was true, I’d lean toward him getting the dog back because I’m sure she misses him so much.
    On the other hand, he left his dog on a f*cking mountain to die alone.

  • Reply Tyler at

    I am going to echo the multiple comments above. Sickening, heartbreaking, needs to be charged for animal cruelty and should no way get her back. She needs to be with someone who will take care of her.

    I take my dogs with me as many places as I possibly can. I would never put them or myself in a position to have to leave one of them behind.

  • Reply Katie @ Katie Moves at

    Wow… That literally put tears in my eyes. I don’t think he deserves the dog back…i just can’t stand anything like this. ugh.

  • Reply Nathan at

    I’ll leave it up to the authorities to determine the appropriate punishment. My takeaway is it makes me a little more conscious of what I do with my dogs and what the heck would I do if I was in a position that our dogs or friends dogs (one is 140 pounds ours are in the near 100 range each) couldn’t go any further. Guessing my best bet would be to have some kind of emergency splint/hammock or something like that in the car that I could haul @$$ to, make a call for help, and then rescue the dog with some extra muscle.

  • Reply ADKinLA at

    So I, like everyone here, is upset with the owner. Reading through the pages and pages of discussion on this on 14er.com there “might” have been a mitigating circumstance in that he was forced out of town for business by his boss. That still does not excuse him not reaching out to the 14ers or try to get help otherwise in the intervening 8 DAYS. I think what really gets people is not so much the initial abandonment (which sucks but is understandable if he and his hiking companion were in danger and couldn’t get the dog down) but then doing nada for a week other than the first few phone calls. This also points out the important fact that official rescues (SAR or otherwise) do not do animal rescues. I have been seeing a lot of dogs on the trails here in SoCal and people have to realize that Fido might not get the same attention as a human from rescuers.

    All of that being said, I don’t think the dog should be returned to the owner.

    3 cheers for the ad hoc rescue party who got Missy down!

  • Reply Marathon Mom at

    Wow! There is no way I could have left, my dog is family and I can’t even imagine!

  • Reply Ed at

    That is crap that he left her there and he has no right to get her back. I am sure I am not the only one to say that and won’t be the last. I could never fathom leaving my dog behind anywhere and would risk my safety and life to save her from anything…

    The dog is clearly a rescue and should be treated as such, fostered then adopted. The owner can face the courts and fell lucky that he was not left up there and his dog make it home safe and sound! The thing is his dog would of prolly returned with rescuers!

  • Reply Lauren at

    I agree with Liz and many other people saying that dogs are family. I know it may be stupid, but I think I would risk my life for my dog. Im glad Missy made it I hope she lives out her life in comfort with someone that would never ever leave her.

  • Reply Beth Bault at

    We’re the crazy dog owners for whom our dog is practically our kid. We talked about this at length last night. SP loves hiking and we try to take him as many places as we can. Sometimes, unfortunately, this means we have to turn around before we summit or modify our plans to work with his needs. Sometimes this means leaving him at home.

    It would take a pretty extreme storm for us to leave Sprocket on a mountaintop alone; especially when he was clearly in pain. And like some of the commenters above have mentioned, we’d have descended just far enough to make sure we’re safe and returned for him as soon as we could.

    (This story just makes me think “risk a lot to save a lot.” Sprocket’s a lot worth saving.)

  • Reply Lena @Fit on the Rocks at

    This is absolutely awful! Everyone should know when it is not okay to bring along a dog. My dog loves hiking, but would I ever put him up for a long, difficult hike? Nope! I’m with you in that I can semi understand why he would have to leave her there, but I cannot believe he wouldn’t go back the very next day! I don’t think I would even be able to drive back home. I’d probably grab some food and wait it out until first thing in the morning when I can be one of the first people up. I hope he gets fined up the arse and doesn’t get her back.

  • Reply MegG at

    It infuriates me and if I were put in that situation with my dog I would have an extremely hard time leaving her and would be back up that mountain the instant the storm passed. It emotional for me to even think about, my dog is my family through and through, just imagining what it would feel like to leave her alone is heart wrenching. Definitely animal abuse, definitely should not be allowed to have the dog back.

  • Reply Kara at

    This broke my heart!!! I’m so glad it ended well and that missy is okay! I can’t handle the animal stories like this. So sad. I hope missy goes to a safe happy home soon 🙂 I i wish more people considered animal safety and comfort before doing crazy things…even taking dogs for walks on hot sidewalks is unbearable for them but people dont seem to think about that 🙁

  • Reply pensive pumpkin at

    I’d have stayed with the dog until I could get her down. End of story. He should not get the dog back. Wow.

  • Reply Jill at

    Of course I’ve seen this story and found it so disturbing. I heard he’s being charged for animal abuse. From what I read, he didn’t contact anyone about the dog for a whole day, and that’s what he’s being charged for. I hope he has to do a great deal of community service for animal abuse!

  • Reply Andy at

    The first thing that came to mind when hearing this story was how stupid this man is. First to bring his dog up on the 14er, and second to actually demand his dog back. I was disgusted with this story but so happy the dog is safe. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal at

      I can’t fault him for taking his pup on a 14er because I take Tals all the time myself, although I did spend a lot of time training her to make sure she can handle it. I DO fault him for taking her on a route that was far too difficult for a dog though, and then to actually ditch her. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

  • Reply Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning at

    Thanks so much for going into such detail about this case. I saw the video last week, and it completely broke my heart. I got a little teared up just reading your post! I just think about poor Missy and how scared she probably was. I just have zero tolerance for animal cruelty- and that’s exactly what this was. If I EVER encountered a situation where I had to “leave one of my dogs to save myself (which is a decision that I don’t even know if I could face!) you better believe that I would go back the moment I was to save them!
    This guy is ignorant and has no business caring for an animal. Rescuers should get her for sure. No question!

  • Reply Heidi Nicole at

    Before I saw the video or heard anything on the news I read the entire forum topic {yes, I had that much time on my hands, don’t judge} and its interesting to see the story unfold. Now, I don’t own a dog, just a whiney cat, but there is no way this man loved his dog as much as he claims.

    Considering Chris and I have managed to learn some very important lessons the stupid way {don’t hike high elevations in the afternoon, you will get stormed on + pack layers for all weather} I can kind of see how he managed to get himself into a sticky situation with his dog on Sawtooth. And for the sake of self preservation I can understand why he had to leave the dog on the mountain initially.

    However, I cannot imagine just assuming the dog was dead and not going back in any way. That is not okay. Again, just a cat owner, but if my cat so much as got lost in my neighborhood over night on a dry, summer night I’d be a nervous wreck! And thats a cat, in a city, in good weather! No, he shouldn’t get his dog back. I don’t like comparing animals to people but a parent wouldn’t get their kid back if they did this. And although the kid would be heartbroken in the beginning because they lost the only parent they knew, it is better for them in the long run. I think people need to consider this when they are saying that Missy misses Anthony. Sure, she does, but chances are there is a better life for her out there!

  • Reply Julia at

    this seriously made me want to start bawling. i cant imagine a more terrible thing. i dont think i could possibly imagine putting my dogs in danger like that to begin with…well they are tiny so i probably wouldnt take them regardless…but still. they are my everything. they are like my lil family and i could never abandon them. i would stay up there myself until i could possibly find a way to get them down. this breaks my heart. i cant imagine anyone being so cruel and then believing that there is anyway they deserve to have the dog back in their life.

  • Reply greengirlrunning at

    No way should he get that sweet survivor of a dog back. He made a mistake, but didn’t value her life enough to try and save her?! What a scum bag.

  • Reply Jamie at

    Oh poor Missy!! I would never ever do that to my dog, I wouldn’t have even brought him in the first place but I could never just leave him!

    I don’t think he should get her back and this is definitely animal cruelty in my opinion.

  • Reply Gina Bégin at

    Nope. He does not, in any way, deserve that dog. Thanks for linking this story to me, Heather. It’s good to hear of the kindness of others that came from this.

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