Missy on the Mountaintop

Backpacking
Missy on the Mountaintop

By now you’ve presumably heard the story on national news about Missy, the German Shepherd left on a Colorado mountaintop when her paws were too cut up by rocks to walk down with her owner.  Fortunately, the story has a relatively happy ending, because eight (very long) days later Missy was rescued when a couple of hikers enlisted help from a climbing group to carry the 112- lb dog down the mountain in a backpack.  And now the original owner wants to get her back.  The story has gone viral on the Web and is generating heated discussion about who should have the dog.

This may seem like a tangent, but please bear with me:  I recently had the opportunity to hear Aron Ralston talk about his 127-hour ordeal in a Utah canyon.  He eloquently described, with alternating doses of raw emotion, gentle humor, and a healthy amount of contrition, what it was like to be stranded in the wilderness with little hope of rescue.  Listening to Aron’s account, I vicariously experienced just a fraction of the dismay, fear, soul-searching, and suffering he must have felt.  A fraction of all that is more than enough.  Of course, Missy can’t tell us about her experience on that mountaintop, but we can be sure that she was hungry, thirsty, cold, frightened, and in pain from her injured paws.  As someone who owns and loves a dog, it hurts me to think about it.

I gather from news accounts that Missy’s owner felt he had to leave her on the mountaintop because he feared for the safety of a younger hiker and could not carry Missy down.  That’s understandable, but why didn’t he subsequently move heaven and earth to go back and rescue her?

Many people have expressed outrage about the situation, and most seem to feel that the owner should not be allowed to have Missy back.  I read one comment which expressed the idea that Missy should be put into a field with the old owner on one side and prospective owners on the other – and she should be allowed to make the choice.  The simple logic of that solution initially appealed to me, yet as a society we often remove children and animals from people who may share a bond of love with them but abuse or neglect them anyway.  Should it be that way here?

It seems to me that humans have a pact with our companion animals, and it’s easy to picture the beginnings of that agreement way back in history – when firelight danced on the walls of caves.  “I’ll toss you bones and give you shelter” possibly being the pledge on the human side, and “I’ll guard the cave entrance and help with hunting” on the canine side.  Somewhere down the line, true love and loyalty developed, and the way we treat our companion animals says a lot about us as humans.  I believe that they deserve the best we can give them.  Clearly, the eight climbers who rescued Missy from the mountaintop believe the same, and they are heroes in my eyes.

I welcome the conversation that this story has generated, because it draws attention to the responsibility that we assume every time we leash up our dogs and head down hiking trails.  In exchange for their love, companionship, and protection, we owe it to our dogs to plan for their needs on the trail.  We should be sure that they are ready for the terrain — which was apparently an issue in Missy’s case, as the trail was rocky and cut up her paws.  And, when stuffing our own backpacks for a hiking adventure, we should also be sure to gather the components needed for our dogs.  American Hiking Society has lists of 10 Essentials of Hiking for both humans and dogs.  Check out the lists so that you can always go prepared on outdoor adventures – and take good care of your human and furry hiking friends.

Leigh Scott


Leigh currently works for American Hiking Society, where she manages AHS’ partnerships with leading outdoor manufacturers and retailers like Eastern Mountain Sports. Leigh has an MBA, a BS in Geology, and certificates in nonprofit management and environmental education. Leigh’s an avid outdoorswoman, a previous girl scout leader, a former community columnist for the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, NC, and a past customer service representative at an outfitter’s store in NC.

46 Comments

  1. September 1, 2012, 10:42 pm

    I don’t know the owners story and the reasons for leaving his dog. But as a dog lover myself I will never understand the mentality of people who think its okay to abandon their pet. They took the dog up there so they had a duty of care to ensure the dog made it safely back down and if that meant leaving her there until a rescue could be organized then so be it. But to leave her there indefinitely, knowing her fate would be to die in horrific circumstances, well that is just callous.

  2. Nora SummitDog
    August 31, 2012, 8:52 am

    Good bless the lucky Missy and in special the group of volunteers who organized after hearing about the German shepherd left on the mountain and also for the veterinarian for treatment. While there are people of good heart, unable to ignore the suffering of others, even risking his own life … there is hope in this world.

    I can not imagine what she did passed staying more than one week bleeding, hurt, alone, tired, hungry and thirsty in the mountains. I will not enter to judge the owner of Missy. We hike with our dog Nora in the Alps and Pyrenees in Europe to high-level or even challenging alpine hikes and this can also happen to Nora. If this happen to us, for sure we would stay with Nora and even if this means die together in the distress in the mountains.

    Final we would address here clearly to everybody who can change the conduct and attitude of the authorities or rescue teams. WHY YOU DID NOT HELP IN THIS MISSY or maybe an other dog in the future. To risky a rescue mission for a dog, but for a person yes… lucky Missy, that a dog-lovers in the Colorado climbing community DID IT. Special taking in consideration, that the used to have rescue dog risking there life for humans. THIS MAKES ME MORE ANGER THAN THE OWNER OF MISSY.

  3. Kirstin
    August 29, 2012, 1:11 pm

    I could understand being forced to leave her there if there was no way to carry her down but I can not & do not understand how, having left Missy ,it became a case of out of sight, out of mind! If they truly cared for her the way she cared for them, heaven and earth would have been moved to mount a rescue mission the same day. Missy deserves a home where the love & respect is mutual. I hope & pray she is not returned to the original owner. The very person who was meant to protect her, abandoned her, left her to die through either exposure, starvation or worse. Missy would have been in pain,scared, hungry, thirst & confused. 8 days they knew where she was and did nothing!!! That disgusts me, I could not even begin to imagine doing such a thing to my dog.

  4. Sandra
    August 29, 2012, 1:00 pm

    I also would die trying to get my dog down the mountainside before leaving her behind. I understand that a younger hiker was there, all the more reason to move heaven and earth to rescue the injured animal–to show the younger hiker the value of life and that we never EVER leave a family member behind! Good lord

  5. Karl
    August 29, 2012, 3:38 am

    I would die alongside my dog rather than leave her behind.

  6. Joe
    August 28, 2012, 11:08 pm

    No way! If they couldn’t get her down then, they should have gotten help right away. The people that saved the dog should get to keep her.

  7. lincoln grimm
    August 28, 2012, 9:15 pm

    NO.. you also consider the dog when coming back down.. she is a life form.. just because she doesn’t talk..
    I’ll come out to colorado to take the dog…
    she’ll never be left alone again…..

  8. Sheri
    August 28, 2012, 7:10 pm

    I am not even a “dog person” and I cannot imagine leaving a dog up there, helpless, hurt, hungry and lonely. The original owner should NOT be permitted to get the dog back. After all, he left her and if the kind hiker had not retrieved Missy, the dog would not be available to be “gotten back”. He thought little of her to go back and get her and already considered her “gone” from his life. She should remain as such.

  9. August 28, 2012, 6:01 pm

    No the answer is no!!!!! The owner didn’t even let anyone know what happened to his dog to see if anyone would save the dog! Maybe he should hike barefoot and someone should leave him up a mountain side. You don’t deserve to have a dog and I hope to god he doesn’t have kids!

  10. Tracey
    August 28, 2012, 5:13 pm

    It’s not just that he abandoned his dog and didn’t go back. It took strangers to let the rangers know about her. It took strangers to post on a hikers site for help – and it took strangers to rescue her. The owner did nothing. He didn’t even post a sign to ask someone else to try
    to save her. How do you just do nothing?

  11. August 28, 2012, 4:37 pm

    i never go hiking in rough country, but even i know that they make dog shoes for those who take their dogs hiking. seems that Missy’s owner failed her. however, i know she would forgive him. WWJD?

  12. Kimberly
    August 28, 2012, 1:33 pm

    I do not think this man deserves his dog back… My vote is NO!!!!!
    I understand that he needed to leave her to help someone back down the Mt, but it took other people to go back up that Mt to rescue Missy.. My question is,,,, Why did he not go back to get her? Why would he not make sure that the other person was helped and then arranged a group to go back up and get “Mans Best Friend”? I just don’t understand that man…

  13. Katie
    August 28, 2012, 12:50 pm

    Dog’s are meant to be ‘man’s best friend’. They are the greatest companion a human could have, and when you abandon that, you are abandoning your right as a pet owner. My dog is by far my best friend, when I look at her, she gives me the up most love and affection and loyalty. That guy abandoned not only his dog, but his rights as a pet owner, it’s a new level of animal cruelty leaving your animal to die at the top of a mountain. Any person who even considers giving this man that precious dog back is out of their mind. That dog deserves a best friend, one that would never abandon her and give her the love and attention she needs. Overall, NO this man should not get that dog back.

  14. Susan
    August 28, 2012, 10:28 am

    I agree- no matter how heart-wrenching the decision probably was to abandon Missy on the mountain, the fact that her owner did not immediately arrange to go back for her is despicable and is the only information that needs to be considered in deciding that Missy should not be returned to her original owner

  15. Paula
    August 28, 2012, 10:24 am

    I ride horses in the outback, with our dogs. Number 1, we don’t take our dogs into terrain that may harm them. If we are unsure of the terrain beforehand, when we get there we make a decision to press forward or not. Never have any of our animals been harmed in any way. If it should EVER happen and we were forced thru circumstance to leave one behind, I would move hell and earth to get back to that animal. Starving to death is an absolute cruelty to any living creature and that dog did not deserve that. Thank God for the hikers.

  16. Todd
    August 28, 2012, 9:54 am

    Sometimes when I look down at my dog- I see a love reflected that staggers me. Literally floors me. There may be a situation where I HAD to leave him to save the life of a little one– ect ect ect. But, I tell you one thing. After that person was okay. I would crawl, beg, stumble and trip to get back to my friend. I could not live knowing they may be hurting. Personally, I don’t think that person deserves the dog. I would not deserve my dog if I left him in peril and did not take the effort to fight for and get back to my friend! They need us and that dog needed their owner. however hurt, beat up or tired they may have been! Opinions are varied and there are many. THis is just mine.

  17. cristine
    August 28, 2012, 9:28 am

    They have no right to get this animal back. You go back I don’t care how tired you are. Unless they didn’t ever really intend to go back for her and were looking for an excuse to leave her there. Sad so very sad.

  18. Hannah
    August 28, 2012, 9:25 am

    It would be an act of neglect and mistreatment to give the dog back to its original owner. He relinquished ownership of the dog the minute he decided he would not seek help and go back for her. I hike with 2 german shepherd mixes, they have their own packs to help carry their supplies and I always research trail conditions before taking them on a new trail. If you must take your dog on rough terrain, please buy boots for your dog. Ruffwear makes them for this purpose. Our animals rely on us for guidance and protection and as pet owners its our duty to provide that.

  19. Ed
    August 28, 2012, 8:56 am

    Over the years I’ve tripped twice while tail running, neither time was I really hurt but I was shaken a little. Each time the dog that I was running with snuggled in with me and then stayed right by my side as I hike out so I know what a dog would do if the roles were reversed.

    Abandoning the dog was an act of stupidity or poor planing. This I can forgive, we don’t know what we don’t know and can be caught out of our depth. Not going back the instant that conditions allowed is at best cowardice, afraid to face the results of his actions, and at worst wanton disregard for an animal who is dependent on him.

  20. August 28, 2012, 8:48 am

    well said “Margaret on August 23, 2012, 7:54 pm”

    Leigh, thanks for bringing this article to our attention and generating a conversation around hiking with your pet and what it means to be a responsible pet owner.

  21. kim
    August 28, 2012, 8:04 am

    NO NO NO NO WAY SHOULD SHE BE RETURNED TO THAT ROTTEN NO GOOD PERSON. ALL THAT PERSON HAD TO DO WAS GET THE YOUNGER HIKER DOWN AND TELL PEOPLE HE NEEDS HELP TO GO GET THE DOG. AND I BET MORE PEOPLE WOULD HAVE GONE TO GET HER. HOW COULD HE SLEEP 8 NIGHTS KNOWING HIS DOG WAS SITTING UP ON THAT MT. WHAT WAS HE THINKING.HE SHOULD BE CHARGED WITH A CRIME AND FINED. NO NO NO CAN’T GET HER BACK . CHARGE HIM TODAY

  22. Robin
    August 28, 2012, 7:21 am

    Missy looks like a wonderful dog and I don’t believe her former owner deserves to have her back. It scares me to think of what could happen to her if she went back to him. Can’t say enough about those who rescued her…they are heroes in my book and should adopt Missy!

  23. Mark Rice
    August 28, 2012, 6:52 am

    Where I hike in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park dogs aren’t permitted on the hiking trails and I think its a good idea. I understand dog owners love their dogs but the dogs represent a threat to the wildlife both through the transmission of disease and through their inborn instinct to chase and capture other animals. I’ve witnessed dogs jumping from a vehicle in the Green Brier area to chase wild turkeys.Unfortunately for their owner so did a ranger. I think the red wolf reintroduction program in Cades Cove failed partially to diseases brought into the area by tourists visiting with dogs. The picnic areas where dogs are allowed on a leash are littered with dog feces everywhere. This whole sad story that turned out well could have been prevented had the dogs owner not brought the dog along. The dog certainly would have not have had to suffer.

  24. Liz Harvey
    August 28, 2012, 2:43 am

    I know people do things in desperate situations that take incredibly difficult choices to make. I couldn’t leave my DOG, would have carried my dog down the mountain just as the hikers did or on my shoulders the best i could. It was meant for these other hikers to find her. I’m just glad they did, happy ending to what could have been a tragic story. As far as the previous companion of the dog, I don’t believe he deserves to have her back, i’m sure in the dogs heart she forgives no matter what and would be very happy to see her previous companion, that’s just how loyal dogs are. Considering 8 days went by and the previous companion didn’t attempt to rescue his dog seems very cold. The bottom line is if you can’t be a responsible pet owner and you put your pets life in jeopardy, then that person truly shouldn’t have that pet back.

  25. MJD
    August 28, 2012, 2:30 am

    We had a dog once whose paws were also so cut up that she couldn’t walk at the end of a day of backpacking. We taped her paws with duck tape so that she was able to hike out. It was messy to take off, but it worked. Now we always bring booties for our dogs. I can understand why Missy’s owner may not have been able to carry her out at the time. But he also essentially abandoned her for eight days. When a child is abandoned, the state looks for a new home for the child, although an attempt may be made first to reunit the child with his birth parents. Perhaps the owner would take a first aid course for dogs as a condition of getting Missy back. And if Missy is returned to her original owner, a humane society representative would visit Missy’s owner from time to time to make sure that Missy isn’t being mistreated.

  26. kiriwonderdog
    August 28, 2012, 2:25 am

    the law differentiates between abandoned livestock and stray animals that wandered off. Missy’s owner abandoned her on the mountaintop. If the dog had strayed and injured itself during its wandering, the owner would be allowed to recover it. But the owner left the dog knowing that the dog was unable to fend for itself. I would not consider restoring ownership that that person, especially because of the callous nature of eight days of abandonment. In this case, “finders keepers, abandonners weepers.”

  27. jennifer
    August 28, 2012, 2:02 am

    i have two doggies…one is a kelpie who, when we really exercise can go pretty long distances with not much food or water…her choice. i look like the idiot trying to make her drink water from her travel bowl on the trail…ha. she can go for miles. but, i have a new doggie…tiny and wee, and he can’t go like that…his paws are more tender, and his legs are shorter…he wants to be a big hiking dog…but he’s not, so, we amend how we hike. even with the kelpie…i need to be mindful that she most likely can’t/oughtn’t go as far as myself…and she’s heavy. i can’t carry her far in my arms. sophie and i have been together for 5 years…through good and bad…and if anyone thinks i’m leaving her anywhere, they are completely mistaken. the owner is lucky their dog didn’t die. i couldn’t even imagine treating either of my dogs like that! horrid. just horrid. he brought the dog out there, he should have been responsible for it…he wasn’t. he is an unfit doggie parent and should feel ashamed of himself. i wouldn’t trust him with another dog if he plans so poorly for this one and valued her so cheaply.

  28. Cornelia
    August 28, 2012, 1:52 am

    I don’t know the full details of this situation. Too bad Missy can’t speak up for herself, I don’t know what the circumstances were, it’s hard to say. We are always so quick to judge, did the owners do anything to help her down? Why didn’t the owners think of first aid kit for her before taking her? Animals do get injured just as we would, you have to think of their welfare too, when you take them anywhere with you. True, dogs especially are so loving and forgiving.. Wherever Missy is going, I hope it’s in the best interest for her. I pray so.

  29. Terry
    August 28, 2012, 1:23 am

    Thank you for this story and even greater thanks for our heroes for their brave rescue!

  30. August 27, 2012, 11:27 pm

    I have a beautiful wife and a 16 year old daughter on the human side of my family. I also have 2 beautiful female dogs who are also my “children”, and yes I mean children. They are an integral part of my family and I would move heaven and earth to help them. I would have taken longer to get bothn my child and my dog back to safety. Personally I can’t stand the idea that someone who would abandon thier “child” in danger ever be allowed to get her back. If Missy had not already found a good home, I would have gladly opened mine. There are far too many people who should not have children for they are too selfish to “share thier lives” with those who need thier care and love.

  31. Kat Sauer
    August 27, 2012, 9:23 pm

    I had not heard this story until now, and I must say that I am disgusted with the former owner of this pretty pup. When you go hiking with your dogs, you go prepared for yourself and the animals that you are in charge of keeping safe. Although it sounds like an excuse to me, I can understand leaving her there if the owner was concerned about the other hiker. HOWEVER, even if this were the case, why would the original owner not immediately rally the help of the outdoors community to get their dog down safely? That excuse would be acceptable if the owner had taken any action to save their dog after the fact. Under no circumstances should the owner get that beautiful, brave dog back.

  32. Dean
    August 27, 2012, 8:14 pm

    I have heard of this story since the beginning of the month and I am appalled by it. I live in CO and own 3 coonhounds. Last year for our anniversary we attempted Mt Princeton another 14er and our first to try. Well after treeline we had to make a judgement call, do we turn around or do we keep going and risk injury. Well we turned around for the safety of my dogs. Also, I am very familiar with where the dog was left. It was climbing the saddle called Sawtooth Ridge from Mt Evans to Mt Bierstadt. Sawtooth isn’t very easy for 2 legged experience hikers, so no dog should have ever been there. Also, the owner should not get the dog back, because no good pet owner would leave their dog to die. He tried nothing to get his dog and that is the worst part. I am on 14ers.com all the time, if the man put one post on there you would have had hundreds of Coloradans looking for the dog. But nothing was done until 7 days later when another group found him.

  33. James Way
    August 27, 2012, 7:02 pm

    As an added thing…

    http://www.ruffwear.com/c.364364/site/product_images_v6/15201_GripTrex_RedCurrant_Stacked3_Lrg.jpg

    First thing I got as soon as I started seeing my shepherd, named cutie, was getting her pads cut up. They just have way too large a paw that that walking over large stones or rocks separates the pads too much causing tears.

  34. Carl
    August 27, 2012, 6:51 pm

    I would never let that happen to my hampster!

  35. james way
    August 27, 2012, 6:42 pm

    This is by far the most disgusting act of selfishness and the dog should go to the rescuer. Having had 5 dogs in my life and having gone through similar, albeit small step compared to the hurdle the rescuer had to go through, how could someone do such an atrocious thing? I went hikingwith my 120 lb 10 year old german shepherd 2 years ago and halfway through she just gave up. She was a very active dog for her age but everyone’s got a limit. She hates getting picked up, but she had no issue doing so that day. I would never even imagine leaving her there, she’s more sister to me that my human one. Carried her over hills 100 meters at a time. He left the dog knowing full well it could die and did not bother to rescue it once he got back. He should be charged for animal cruelty and lose the dog. The dog deserves a loving caring owner.

  36. Kristin
    August 27, 2012, 6:40 pm

    The bottom line here, is that if you take an animal into the wilderness you should have some training in how to keep that animal safe and healthy. You should know normal heart rate, respiratory rate and body temp. You should know how to tell if your dog is in pain…yes…they do feel pain. Orthopedic pain is visible by observing a limp or unwillingness to continue on. You should have a veterinary emergency kit and know which human medications are not safe for dogs. Booties and frequent foot checks are necessary. He should not get his dog back.

  37. Nathalie Fortier
    August 27, 2012, 6:27 pm

    He didn’t go back for her, then, the hell with him. Get a stuffed dog, if you can’t take care of a real one properly.

  38. Missy
    August 27, 2012, 5:48 pm

    NO- the owner should not get her back!!! A couple of years ago, my husband and I were hiking the Presidential Range in NH- we had met up with a guy and his dog-Sugar- well her pads got cut up and he was going slow with her to get her to the other side to hitch hike back to his car (not his plan)- we had spotted a car so we hiked slowly, missing some of our peaks so we could give him a ride, there was never a question that we wouldn’t help him!! When we got back to my car I had mushers secret in there for my dogs, we rubbed her pads and massaged it in, a couple of pads had ‘deflated’ even. But to leave a dog helpless- they are our children- people who treat them as ‘animals’ should be treated as such! He should be ashamed of himself- I assume carrying on with life like he never had a dog makes this even worse!

  39. August 27, 2012, 5:00 pm

    I’d like to hear the owner’s answer to the question: Why didn’t you go back and get your dog? before making a conclusion.

  40. Debra Harrington
    August 24, 2012, 9:20 am

    This story is emblematic of how some people view their companion animals. It’s so sad that someone would leave their pet to fend for themselves when they are clearly too injured to do so. The idea of letting Missy choose who to return to is not a good one because she would quite likely go back to her original owner. Dogs are very forgiving and loyal creatures. Sadly, she would likely go to the person she remembered the best. He should be charged with animal cruelty because of letting her suffer the paw injuries and then leaving her in jeopardy. In no way should Missy be returned to an owner who clearly relinquished responsibility for her. Also, what is he teaching his children about pet companionship? So many issues.

  41. Staci
    August 24, 2012, 12:14 am

    I also have not heard of this story and am appalled by the owners lack of caring. As a mother of three children and also three beautiful dogs ( my second children ). My husband and I would do all we could to save them as they are not just dogs they are part of our family. Even if it meant getting our three children to safety first you can bet we would turn right back around or at the very least report the issue for help with a search and rescue. By no means would we leave our family out alone hurting unable to protect themselves for one day let alone eight. He is a pathetic excuse for a human being, he should be put in the same situation as that poor pup. Hungry, thirsty cut up and helpless. He does not deserve to have this beautiful amazing animal back, there are plenty of people that would give her a home she truly deserves. Myself included!

  42. Margaret
    August 23, 2012, 7:54 pm

    A dog doesn’t have the capacity to weigh the risks involved in a hike or any activity and say, “Yes, I will take those chances and go.” They go because YOU take them. If you make a decision on your pet’s behalf, YOU are responsible for dealing with the consequences.

  43. RHub
    August 23, 2012, 4:08 pm

    In no way should Missy be returned to her “former” owner. He gave up “ownership” privileges by putting her in danger, leaving her injured and not returning to her rescue. IMHO he should never be allowed to own another living creature again. Shame on him.

  44. Justin Shaulis
    August 23, 2012, 3:55 pm

    My philosphy of You Go, We go especially extends to my K9 hiking partner!

  45. Kate
    August 23, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Clearly the owner is a complete and utter zero in the decency department. He took the dog into an area well beyond her abilities and without appropriate preparation, didn’t turn back even though he realized the animal was injured (her paws were all torn up), and then abandoned her & never looked back. I don’t believe for one second that he descended that mountain because he felt compelled to assist another hiker. This guy is all about himself, period. The moment you allow a pet into your life, you assume responsibility for that creature. He failed. To hell with him.

  46. August 22, 2012, 1:07 pm

    I had not heard about this. The lack of effort to save her after his return tells it all. Thanks for sharing, Leigh!

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