DENVER - A man who left his dog to die on a Colorado mountain said he received death threats, even though he has paid vet bills and agreed to turn over the dog to one of the rescuers.
Anthony Ortolani said Sunday he is giving the German shepherd mix to one of the people who climbed Mount Bierstadt to rescue Missy after the animal spent eight days on her own last month.
Another hiker spotted the injured dog, volunteers coordinated a rescue effort through a climbing website. Rescuers found the dog bloodied and close to death on a ridge.
Ortolani is charged with animal cruelty for leaving the dog behind on a mountain climbing trip. His lawyer, Jennifer Edwards, said her client hopes to make a plea deal.
Ortolani told KMGH-TV he was forced to leave the dog on the mountain after the animal got injured. He said he and a friend tried to carry the 112-pound animal for more than two hours over rocky terrain, but he worried for his safety and had to abandon her.
"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," said Ortalani, adding that he has already paid close to $5,000 in vet and boarding bills.
Ortolani was climbing with the 19-year-old son of a friend when bad weather moved in. He said the canine'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 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."
The dog owner called a friend who contacted the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office but was told the region was too dangerous and crews don't rescue animals.
Ortolani acknowledged that he didn't put up a sign on the trailhead bulletin board asking to be contacted if anyone saw his dog. He said he takes full responsibility for taking the dog with him on a hike that proved to be too difficult for her.
"I've always wanted nothing but the best for her, and that's why I take her everywhere with me," he said.
After Ortolani learned of the rescue, he asked for his dog back. but Clear Creek County authorities conducted an investigation and charged him with animal cruelty.
The decision to give up custody of Missy was part of a possible plea bargain.