POSTED: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 2:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 2:04am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — A canine custody battle is brewing in Colorado between the men who rescued a stranded dog and it's owner.
The rescuers didn't know each other, but they were brought together by a dog they had seen in a photograph.
The picture of the dog, a female German shepherd named Missy, was posted on a website along with a message about the dog being injured and stranded near Colorado's Mt. Bierstadt, at around 13,000 feet.
The photo was taken by a hiker who located the dog, but was unable to get her off the mountain by himself.
Almost immediately, hikers and climbers started to organize a plan to go up and rescue the dog.
At 5:30 in the morning on August 6 eight men met at the trailhead and began the climb up Mt. Bierstadt.
"Just the thought of a dog being left up there, I mean I figured it is worth a chance to try to go find it," said Chase Lindell, one of the rescuers.
Around 8 a.m. the rescue group reached the Sawtooth ridge and spotted the dog.
"The dog seemed really weak and it couldn't move much at all," Lindell said. "And given the terrain there was no way the dog was walking out of there. So, we were able to get the dog into a backpack."
The group started giving Missy some food and water.
"A very sweet dog, I mean you could tell she was worn out, but she was happy," said Alex Gelb, one of the rescuers.
They carried Missy off the mountain through a snow squall and got her to a veterinarian, where she is being treated for injuries to her paws and dehydration.
The story of the rescue quickly spread on the 14ers.com website.
The owner of the dog, Anthony Ortalani, also posted the story of how the dog became stranded.
Ortalani says he was hiking with the dog when her paws became blistered and were too sore for her to continue walking.
With the dog unable to walk, Ortalani says he tried to carry the dog off the mountain, but was unable.
He says that attempts to lower the dog with ropes were injuring the dog even more, and with a storm approaching he was forced to leave the dog behind.
Once down the mountain Ortalani says he contacted a search and rescue group and the Sheriff's department, but was told it was too risky to send a rescue crew up for the dog.
When Missy was eventually located, she had been on the mountain for eight days without food or water.
In his posting on 14ers.com the dog owner said, "I am at a complete loss of words. My gratitude for the people involved in this is without measure."
He went on to say, "I humbly beg the forgiveness of the community and most of all my Missy Girl. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."
At issue now is where Missy will live once she recovers from her injured paws.
The Clear Creek County Sheriff's department is currently investigating the case and it may not be a simple one.
"This does not sound like a black and white case to me," said Jennifer Edwards, an attorney and founder of the Animal Law Center. "Certainly with the facts that I've read, this is going to be a very emotional and maybe even litigious case."
Edwards says the dog owner's efforts to rescue the dog during that eight day time period will be a factor.
"This may be an animal welfare case, more than it is an animal legal case or property case. This is a case about an animal's welfare and it may come down to what are the best interests of what the dogs standard would be," Edwards said.