The internet came to the rescue yet again last week, when a group of hikers used an online message board to organize the rescue of a wounded dog stranded high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Official rescue teams can't devote limited resources to saving pets, so the freelance mountaineers had to do it all on their own. How did they pull off this harrowing and heartwarming feat? Here, a brief guide:
How did they discover the desperate pooch?
Two hikers, Scott and Amanda Washburn, stumbled across the dog, a German Shepherd, whimpering and tucked into rocks along a trail near the top of Mount Bierstadt. "Her paws were completely raw and her elbows were torn up," say Scott. It was clear the animal was too weak to walk down from the snow-capped peaks on her own, and, weighing more than 100 pounds, she was too heavy for them to carry out.
So they had to leave the dog there?
Yes. The Washburns patched up the animal as best they could with a first aid kit, left her some water, and started hiking down the mountain. They found a ranger, who apologized and said the Forest Service couldn't help. "My wife broke down crying at the thought of leaving the dog to die," says Scott. Finally, they hiked out. This was Aug. 11.
What happened next?
The couple called friends and acquaintances, started a Facebook page, and pleaded for help on the "14ers" hikers' forum website, named for challenging 14,000-foot peaks like Mount Bierstadt. There were plenty of angry reactions to the news that the dog had been left to almost surely die among the snow-capped peaks — but there were also many offers of aid. The next day, a group of volunteers tried to find the dog, but failed. A day later, another team, including Scott Washburn, went back.
Did they find the dog?
Yes. The eight volunteers found the German Shepherd. Her bandaged wounds had reopened, and she was covered in blood, still shivering in the rocks. They bundled the dog into a big backpack, and started the walk down. A snow storm hit, increasing the danger, but nine hours after they set out they made it to safety. The hikers took the battered animal to a vet, who declared that, having survived her ordeal, she was "the miracle dog of the century."
How did she get stuck on top of a mountain?
After the rescue, a man named Anthony Ortalani came forward on the 14ers website saying that he had been forced to leave the pet — he said her name is Missy — behind on Aug. 5, as a storm came in and he tried to get another hiker to safety. He said "thinking of her suffering was awful beyond words" when he couldn't get authorities to help retrieve her. Ortalani begged for forgiveness, but didn't exactly get it. The local sheriff is looking into whether to file animal cruelty charges, and Washburn said that, in his opinion, the dog's owner had forfeited the right to ask for her back. Authorities haven't decided who will get custody of Missy or, as the rescuers have dubbed her, Lucky.