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.