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Dog left to die on Colorado mountain; owner defends actions

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times –

LAS VEGAS — It looks as though Missy, the mountain-climbing dog from Colorado who was left to die by her owner on a Colorado peak last month, is going to a new family: a rescuer who saved the animal after it went eight days without water, food or medical care.

Meanwhile, Anthony Ortolani, the owner of the German shepherd mix, has received death threats for leaving the dog to die, his lawyer told the Los Angeles Times.

“He’s gotten letters and calls that he’s cruel and has no right to the animal,” said Denver lawyer Jennifer Edwards, who represents Ortolani. “People have said if he ever gets the dog back, his family will never be safe.”

Edwards told the Times that her client had been misconstrued as heartless and that he tried in vain to keep Missy with him after a storm broke atop Mount Bierstadt. She also says he’s since paid the animal’s veterinary bills.

The 5-year-old dog was Ortolani’s constant companion and had climbed more than a dozen local peaks with him, Edwards said. But last month, while climbing the second peak of at least 13,000 feet in one day, Ortolani was forced to leave Missy on the mountain after the animal got injured, the lawyer said.

Ortolani and a young climbing companion tried to carry the 112-pound animal for more than two hours over rocky terrain, but Ortolani worried for his safety and had to abandon the dog, the lawyer said.

Ortolani was charged with animal cruelty for leaving Missy behind, but Edwards says he was allowed to plead to a reduced charge in exchange for giving up the dog.

“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,” Ortolani told a Denver TV station. He said he had paid almost $5,000 in vet and boarding bills.

At the time, Ortolani said, Missy’s feet were blistered and she was unable to walk. He said he and his climbing companion were also struggling in the bad weather and that they decided it was time to come down for their own safety.

“Carrying her down, unfortunately caused her more injury,” Ortolani said. “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,” he said.

Another hiker spotted the injured dog, and volunteers coordinated a rescue effort through a climbing website. Rescuers found the dog bloodied and close to death on a ridge.

After Ortolani learned of the rescue, he asked for Missy back, but Clear Creek County authorities conducted an investigation and charged him with animal cruelty.

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

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