Two frequently climbed 14,000+ foot mountains (known as 14ers) in Colorado are Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt. They are both relatively easy (for a 14er) climbs on their own, both with Class II routes to the summit. A Class II route may not be an easy trail, you might occasionally have to put a hand out onto a rock for balance. Evans and Bierstadt share a saddle called the Sawtooth, which is a Class III route. Class III means that you will likely be using your hands, you probably won’t need ropes to climb it but it might be a good idea to have them with you.
On August 11 at about 7pm, a hiker named Scott Washburn made a post on the website 14ers.com, stating he and his wife Amanda were hiking the Sawtooth when they found an abandoned German Shepherd. The dog’s paws were cracked and covered in dried blood and the dog appeared dehydrated and gaunt. Despite giving the dog food and water and bandaging its paws, they were unable to convince her to walk down with them. The size of the dog (around 100 pounds) made it impossible for the couple to carry the dog down the Class III terrain on their own. The Washburns called the local Search and Rescue organization but were told that the services were for humans, not pets.
Another member of 14ers.com indicated that they had passed the dog accompanying two people on the Sawtooth on August 5. The commenter mentioned that the dog seemed to be in distress, was breathing hard and didn’t appear to be having a dog-friendly trip at all. Several people expressed disbelief that it was the same dog, since surviving for six days on an exposed mountainside would be quite difficult.
Within a few hours of the post, a team organized and were at the trailhead at 11:30 pm but were unsuccessful in finding the dog. Other hikers went up and looked for the dog on August 12 but were also unsuccessful.
The Washburns organized another search and rescue attempt on August 13. The rescuers left the trailhead at 5am, and despite hiking through a snowstorm, located the dog and brought her down that afternoon, using backpacks and litters.
Once the dog was off the Class III section of the hike (and possibly no longer being affected by altitude sickness), had some food and water and had booties put on her feet, she walked the rest of the way down by herself. The Washburns named the dog Lucky, and have expressed interest in adopting her.
I’ve seen mobilization quite quickly for missing people in the mountains; it’s not unusual to see this sort of fast response (and usually involving hundreds of people) from the 14ers.com members for a human. To see it for an abandoned dog was beautiful.
Some people are amazing. And then others are douchebags.
The day after Lucky was rescued, a man named Anthony Ortolani posted on 14ers.com claiming to be the owner of the dog. He confirmed that he was on the mountain with his dog on August 5, but had abandoned the dog when weather moved in because he felt responsible for getting his hiking partner down the mountain.
This is understandable. Human life is more valuable than animal life. Sometimes the best thing a hiker can do is just get down the mountain and save himself, especially in cases of extreme weather. Occasionally, even people get left on a mountain when the circumstances are dire enough.
What’s not understandable is what Ortolani did over the next several days, which is not a damned thing besides making one phone call to the sheriff’s office. Despite being aware of the 14ers.com website (he claimed to have checked the site looking for information regarding his dog) he didn’t make any posts asking for help finding his dog. He didn’t go back out and post pictures at the trailhead, didn’t ask any of his friends to go back out and post pictures. He didn’t go back up to try to find her, he didn’t send anyone else up to try to find her. He didn’t try to enlist any sort of aid in finding his dog.
Criminal charges for animal cruelty were filed today against Anthony Ortolani. If I had a guess, he wouldn’t even be coming forward if the dog hadn’t been wearing a rabies tag and was therefore identifiable. I hope that common sense prevails and Lucky (yeah, I’m calling her by her new name – abandoned dogs don’t have to keep their former owner’s name) is put in the guardianship of the people who took the time and effort to carry her down the mountain and not returned to someone who didn’t care enough to even make a post on an Internet forum.