Honored Dog Rescuer Regales Elementary School with Heroic Tale

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12.26.12 School Story

Stefan Kleinschuster, a Colorado mountain climber, was recently honored by the Animal Hero Kids organization for rescuing a dog abandoned on a mountain, and went to North Fork Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale to share his story with the students.

Months ago we brought you the sad story of Missy, who was left to fend for herself in the Rocky Mountains after she became injured.  Owner Anthony Ortolani and a friend were hiking on Mount Bierstadt with his five-year-old German Shepherd named Missy and a Rottweiler mix on August 5th.  Missy’s feet got badly scraped up walking on the jagged rocks.  Ortolani and his friend struggled to carry the 112-lb. dog for over two hours during a snowstorm, and could no longer persevere.  They were forced to abandon Missy to save themselves.  Once they reached the bottom, Ortolani said he had someone call the sheriff’s office, but deputies said they would not be able to send a rescue crew for her.

“Having trained, professional, well-equipped people saying it’s too risky to go up there to get a dog out of there, I couldn’t see the responsibility or how it would make sense for me to get untrained, unequipped, not professional people to go risk their lives to get the dog,” Ortolani said.

On August 11th, Amanda and Scott Washburn saw Missy tucked into a crevice in the rocks.  She was injured, weakened and on her way to death.  They were unable to carry the heavy dog alone, but they patched up her wounds, and went back down the mountain to get help.  The Washburns created a Facebook page and pled for help on 14ers, an online hikers’ forum.

“I just don’t think that his actions have shown that he is a responsible dog owner,” Scott Washburn said.  “We understand that he had to leave her there.  My wife and I did the same thing.  But we ended up going back for her, and we went to some pretty extreme lengths to do so.  In my opinion, that is not a responsible dog owner, who doesn’t really care about her.”

They recruited eight volunteers, including Kleinschuster, and climbed 13,000 feet to save Missy on the cold and snowy night.

“A search and rescue truck was waiting for us when we got down,” said Kleinschuster. “The story went out on the news.  Then ‘Good Morning America’ called and did a segment on us.  ‘Inside Edition’ picked the story up.  Then Ellen DeGeneres contacted us.  Her producers flew all of us to Burbank and we were featured on her show.”

Kleinschuster was soon contacted by Susan Hargreaves, the founder of Animal Hero Kids.  The organization, started 15 years ago, recognizes animal and human heroes.  She arranged for him to speak to the students at North Fork.

“We started hiking in the dark. It got colder and colder,” Kleinschuster explained.  “Not knowing whether the dog was going to be found alive added to the tension.  When we got to the top and spotted the dog, we saw she was halfway down a 50-degree slope on the far side of the peak.”

The group carried Missy down in an oversized backpack over the course of three hours.

“The terrain was so wicked that if you didn’t have full balance there would be a really bad fall,” Kleinschuster said.”

About a thousand feet from the bottom, (not knowing what her name was), the fellowship named the dog Lucky and began calling themselves “Friends of Lucky.”

Hargreaves said the rescuers exemplified what her organization is about.

“People have become aware that animals have feelings and humans are not the only ones that can feel pain,” she said. “It is slowly becoming unacceptable to be cruel to an animal.”

Kleinschuster said Lucky’s tale is about humans returning to being a part of the world.  “Understanding how connected they are to all living things.  It’s really a re-connection.  It’s like coming home again.”