Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yesterday and Today; And Atticus On Emmylou Harris' Website

Yesterday, my friend Ann wanted to know if I was getting nervous or excited about this coming Thursday night when Atticus and I will be at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston at the 21st Annual MSPCA-Angell Animal Hall of Fame Dinner. For those who don’t know, Atticus and I are sharing the organizations “Human Hero of the Year Award” for our efforts in raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center by climbing 66 4,000-footers this past winter.

She was incredulous when I stated simply, “No.”

I told her, for everything that went with running The Undertoad in Newburyport; I couldn’t imagine anything that didn’t get me ready for in life. We’ll be getting attention on Thursday night – big deal. As the editor of The ‘Toad I received a lifetime of attention in 11 years and nothing could be as intense as that was. And while I know I’m a writer and not a public speaker, I figured I’d do just fine when it came to the 5-minute speech I’m expected to give.

That was yesterday. That was before I came close to losing Atticus when a dog attacked him by ripping into his throat. That was before I spent the night watching over his innocent body with a goddamn drainage tube sticking out of his neck.

The way I figured it was that while the JFK Library will be packed with a lot of bigwigs, Atticus and I share something most of them will never know. We truly have a unique bond. With all that we’ve gone through in our six and a half years together I figured it would be easy facing that crowd and sharing my relationship with Atticus with them. Standing up there with him would make it easy.

This morning I’m not so sure of that any longer. I am a sentimental fool; a romantic. In lieu of what happened yesterday – in almost losing Atticus, well, right about now I’m not quite sure how I will do on stage. The idea of almost not being able to stand up there with him is a nightmare. My biggest goal is not to turn into the blubbering mess I am right now.

It would have been easy. Get introduced. Start with a joke – “What’s the difference between a miniature schnauzer and a hockey mom?” Then talk calmly for four or five minutes. But that was yesterday.

In the span of a few seconds, this beautiful, bucolic corner of the world became ugly. With the grotesque sounds of an aggressive dog ripping into Atticus’ throat, and his helpless yelps, our world up here changed. At least for a little while. I’m not sure how the better half of Tom & Atticus will handle it, probably much better than I will, but from now on I will be on my guard far more in the future.

Our plan was to go south on Thursday for the dinner and spend the rest of the time in Newburyport, returning here Saturday morning. Now, considering what’s happened to Atti, we are going to Newburyport on Tuesday because the little bug has a lot of friends down there and it always lifts his spirits to see them. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that. Then, when we come back up north, hopefully he’ll be able to climb again and we’ll go find a mountain to sit on.

Get well emails have already started to flow in – and I thank you for them. It means the world to know that the little dog who has moved me has also moved others to the point where they care.

Meanwhile, a friend has forwarded the following to me. She was looking at Emmylou Harris’ website and found it.

21st Annual MSPCA-Angell Animal Hall of Fame Dinner to Honor Emmylou Harris Additional Honorees Include BPD K9s, Teenage Advocate and Canine/Human Mountain Climbers

BOSTON – The MPSCA-Angell will honor world renowned vocalist Emmylou Harris at the non-profit’s 21st Annual Animal Hall of Fame Dinner on October 16 at the JFK Library & Museum. Additional honorees will include the Boston Police Department’s K9 Unit (Animal Hero Award), Amanda MacDonald (Young Hero Award) and Tom Ryan and Atticus M. Finch (Human Hero Award).

“The heroes of 2008 represent all of the animal advocates, champions, and defenders who further the cause of kindness every day, all around us,” said MSPCA president carter Luke. “We pay tribute to them on this special night.”

Since 1987, the MSPCA-Angell has gathered its supporters to promote compassion for animals by honoring those people and animals who uplift us through their extraordinary efforts and encourage us to follow their example. This year the MSPCA-Angell will be presenting its highest honor, the George T. Angell Humanitarian Award to Country Music singer Emmylou Harris for her tireless work in the field of animal welfare. Harris is a longtime supporter of animal welfare. She founded and assists at Bonaparte’s Retreat, a shelter in Nashville dedicated to finding permanent, loving homes for the hardest-to-place animals.

The Animal Hero Award is presented to an animal who has saved the life of one or more humans or animals, or demonstrated remarkable bravery or loyalty. The Boston Police K9 Unit accomplishes all of these requirements daily and is dedicated to keeping Bostonians and visitors to the city safe.

The Human Hero Award is given every year for exceptional devotion, compassion, and bravery on behalf of people and animals. Tom Ryan and his dog, Atticus M. Finch chronicled their adventures hiking 66 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks on their blog ( Through their online journal, Ryan recounted each hike and reflected on the unique relationship between humans and the animals in their lives.

The Young Hero Award is presented to a person under 18 who either through volunteer activities or an act of genuine kindness and compassion made a significant difference in the life of one or more animals. Amanda MacDonald collected hundreds of signatures to help the Greyhound Protection Act (, to phase out dog racing in Massachusetts, become a ballot question in 2008.

The evening’s program includes a cocktail reception, seated dinner and awards ceremony including the presentation of the MSPCA-Angell's Hero Awards.

For more information, visit

No comments: