CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - A Westminster man who admitted to leaving his dog atop a Colorado 14er has now been charged with cruelty to animals.
The Clear Creek County Sheriff's office announced the charge against Anthony Ortolani Friday. His dog Missy is now in the middle of a canine custody battle, between Ortolani and members of the climbing community who rescued the German Shepherd after eight days on Mount Bierstadt.
In a post on 14ers.com Ortolani says he was climbing the dangerous sawtooth section between Mount Bierstadt and Evans when the dog was injured. He writes, "Her paws got bloodied up right in the belly of the sawtooth. I was assisting her with the climb using ropes and a harness for a while but she kept getting hurt worse."
He says incoming weather forced climbers from the sawtooth, but getting the dog out safely was getting more difficult.
"I picked her up on my shoulders and was hopping from boulder to boulder but I couldn't keep her on me. I dropped her once and I almost fell once too and I realized that I couldn't carry her off of the mountain. At this point I made the decision that I honestly never thought I would even be faced with. I left her there so that my friend and I could get down safely."
Ortolani claims he called 911, but was told a rescue mission would be too risky for authorities.
But as it turns out a rescue mission was not too risky for dog-lovers in the Colorado climbing community.
Scott Washburn, and his wife Amanda, spotted Missy six days later while climbing the sawtooth. Washburn says Missy was in really bad shape.
"I tried to put her over my shoulders. We tried to grab her and move her but the dog was just 100 pounds and there was no way we were getting her out."
The Washburn taped the dog's injured paws and left her on the craggy mountainside.
"I had to leave her there, but we went back."
Washburn posted a picture of the injured dog on the website www.14ers.com and within minutes the climbing community was organizing for a rescue mission.
A complete stranger, Brandon Vail, led a search party that same night. He posted on the message board "A night hike it is."
"We knew the dog's life was in jeopardy. We thought if there was something we could do right now, might as well do it. We would have had a hard time sleeping that night if we would not have gone."
A team of four experienced climbers started hiking Mt. Bierstadt at 11:30 p.m. Saturday. They searched through the darkness hoping they would catch a glint of the dog's eyes in their headlamps. But Vail and his team came up empty.
Monday morning, eight days after Missy was left, Washburn led a new search team of eight climbers. Chase Lindell and Alex Gelb volunteered to help.
"The thought of a dog slowly dying on the top of the mountain is tough to stomach," Gelb wrote about his reasoning for joining the search.
The group powered through a snow squall near the summit of Mt. Bierstadt and found the dog right where Washburn had last seen it, on the treacherous sawtooth. They named the dog "Lucky" and took turns carrying the dog down the mountainside in a backpack.
When they got to the bottom the group posted pictures of the hike on the message board, garnering cheers of support from other climbers.
But that night they got an unexpected post. The original owner, Anthony Ortolani, came forward. Ortolani thanked the rescuers, apologized for taking the dog on the dangerous section of trail, and asked for his dog back.
Scott Washburn and the other members of the rescue team don't want to see that happen. "Personally, I don't believe he deserved the dog, he left that dog for dead."
Missy was taken to a vet and treated for severe dehydration. She will remain in custody of animal control until a judge decides who has a legal right to the dog. Ortolani's next court date is in October.
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