A powerful answer from an incredible rescue story
The concerns a dog owner should consider before deciding whether or not to bring their dog on a hike are best illustrated with a true story: Missy the Wonderdog from August 2012. Missy was a German shepherd/Rottweiler mix weighing in at 112 pounds.
Here’s what happened.
Missy’s owner and a teenage companion hiked up Mt. Bierstadt, a fourteener Emme and I did, probably on the same route. Summiting that mountain is no problem for a fit dog, and Emme certainly had zero difficulty. However, Missy’s companions intended for the trio to continue beyond this mountain to traverse a very difficult, rocky 900-foot descent and across a Class 3 ridge called the Sawtooth. No dog should attempt that, much less a 112-pound dog that would have major trouble in those boulders and sharp rocks. A heavy, large dog is at a disadvantage in sharp, deep rocks and boulders, and 112 pounds is almost a horse in dog terms.
Before the group even made it to the beginning of the Sawtooth, Missy’s paws were bloodied, and she was having trouble in the rocks. Soon she refused to go further and could not go back up either. The owner tried lifting her to go back up to the Bierstadt summit where the going was easier, but she was too heavy.
“At this point I made a decision that I never thought I would ever be faced with. I left her there so that my friend and I could get down, with intentions for calling Search and Rescue when we got down.”
Later in the day he called Search and Rescue, but they weren’t going to send a human crew up to save a dog, especially in that area. The next day the owner had to take a business trip. He Googled “Dog found on Bierstadt” repeatedly for a few days hoping to see that someone had saved the dog, but nothing. He then assumed the dog was dead.
Six days later, some climbers ran into Missy, still barely alive. On a later post they described her as “having paws more like bloody ribbons of flesh and a case of dehydration so severe that her saliva was blue.” It was a miracle she was still alive. They tried to carry her down, but the terrain was too taxing. They bandaged her paws, left her with water and climbed down the mountain.
They were unwilling to accept defeat. They logged into the 14ers.com forum for climbers and posted a picture they had taken of Missy as she lay on the rocks at 13,300 feet and asked anyone doing the climb to bring food and water for the dog. Another climber who saw the post had a gut reaction. “I knew I needed to do something, and I knew I had to do it right now.” That sure would have been my reaction if I had seen the posting.
After a false start that night, he rounded up eight strong climbers. Armed with a GPS location from an earlier climber and a variety of oversized packs, they headed up to the summit of Mt. Bierstadt, a climb peaking at 14,264 feet and then descended the 900 feet of rocky terrain towards Sawtooth Ridge. That was day eight. They found Missy, still barely alive, nestled between the rocks, sheltered from the wind below the ridge.
They pushed on, and once back at Bierstadt’s summit they were able to head downhill on the smoother, standard trail to trailhead, but it still was a nine-hour rescue. Missy was taken to an animal hospital where she stayed for two weeks under medical care, recuperating.
The story of Missy became legendary in the local Colorado press.
Here is an excerpt from the Denver Post, September 2012:
The owner of a dog rescued from a Colorado fourteener last month after he had to abandon her to help a friend down the mountain has agreed to give the 5-year-old pooch to one of her rescuers. The owner, 31, faced charges of animal cruelty for leaving his German shepherd/Rottweiler mix, Missy, behind on the saddle between Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans.
Missy was stranded for eight days before rescuers found her bloodied and close to death on the ridge. Discussions leading to the plea bargain included talk of him giving the dog up but are not the reason for his surrendering the animal. “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,” he said.
Dog or No Dog?
Here is my answer in the strongest possible terms. If someone plans to bring a dog on a hike, they must be prepared to care for that dog should she become injured, and if that means carrying her down the mountain for several miles, so be it. If committing to that is not possible, then leave her home. Taking a big dog up and down a severe rocky slope can cause paw cuts, rockslides, twisted, shredded or jammed legs, and then what? Who can carry a big dog other than an active-duty Navy Seal (or a Pararescueman or PJ), maybe?
If I had known the story as it was unfolding, I guarantee I would have found a way to get that dog off the mountain. What in the world were they doing up there without an emergency GPS? If it was me, I would have pushed the emergency button on my GPS without hesitation. That goes straight to satellite and then relayed to the local Sherriff who hands off to Search and Rescue. It tells them exactly where you are. If they got ticked that it was a dog they were rescuing once they got there, I’d have figured out what kind of donation to their Rescue service would make them feel better about it. Anything but leaving that dog there for EIGHT days. It drives me crazy.
The lead rescuer wound up owning Missy, which was surely a wonderful and right outcome. The first thing he did was to rename her Lucky, the same name as Emme’s formal name, Lucky Lady Emme. They are both lucky dogs.