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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Atticus To Receive Muttluks For Life

It’s a hot chocolate day sit by the fire and read a book kind of day. It’s a snowy and windy and cold day. Winter has returned to Jackson.

The plows are busy clearing the streets and dropping salt, although they never seem to clear the sidewalks up here. That makes for a challenge for us. We have to walk in the road and the salt stings the pads on Atticus’ feet just as the heavily salted brick sidewalks in downtown Newburyport burned Max’s feet. Since we lived downtown, we had a problem. But with the problem came a solution. Friends Doug and Barbara Cray bought Max a gift: a set of Muttluks dog boots.

When I first put the Muttluks on Max I did it inside and he pranced around on his tippy toes and tried to shake the boots off his little feet. I even had to carry him down the three flights of external stairs because he was unsure of his feet. But once outside, on that salty sidewalk, he relaxed and there was no more pain. He seemed to understand the boots were a good thing and whenever I put them on him in the future he sensed they would make his life easier.

Max came to me in his old age and he only lasted two winters with me. But soon after his death Atticus arrived and when winter rolled around Max’s Muttluks turned into hand me downs for Atti. He, like Max, did the hot foot strut when I first put them on him, but once out on the salty sidewalk he too seemed to understand the boots were there not as punishment but as something that would help him.

Little did I know just how instrumental Muttluks would be in our lives. We weren’t hiking at the time but when we did start I brought the boots along on some of the rougher summer hikes. While people laughed at Atticus in his boots or talked about how cute he looked, when we encountered other dogs in the Northern Presidentials who were limping with bloody paws, no one laughed at Atticus then. He, unlike the other dogs, was prepared.

After finishing the 48 4,000-footers in 11 weeks that first summer, we did the unheard of and decided to attempt to do the same that first winter. It was unheard of because I was told overweight newspaper editors with a fear of heights and little dogs don’t belong in the winter Whites. By this time I bought a new pair of Muttluks. We didn’t need them on every hike that winter and we didn’t finish all 48, but we did reach 41 summits and we wouldn’t have reached that many had it not been for his Muttluks.

The next winter we raised money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute by hiking in memory of dearly departed Vicki Pearson. The goal was outrageous: hike the 48 in one winter…twice. It was an epic 90 days and while we once again fell shy of our goal we reached an astounding 81 peaks. Many of these wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Muttluks, who when they learned of our Winter Quest, sent Atticus six sets of free boots.

Those boots have lasted us but they’ve become somewhat threadbare from all the use. He continues to wear them on most winter hikes and on some of the rockier summer climbs and has worn them down quite a bit. But even as they got older and had many miles on them, I respectfully declined the offer of a major outdoor store to supply Atticus with another kind of hiking boot for dogs. “Thanks but we’ll stick with Muttluks,” I told the store manager, “They’ve worked well for us.”

“But these are free,” he said.

“But they aren’t Muttluks.”

I was ready to go out and buy some new Muttluks when I received a wonderful email from Marianne Bertrand, the remarkable founder and president of Muttluks. In it she wrote: “I have heard so much about the two of you yet I have never contacted you directly. Your story and dedication are truly heartwarming and beautiful. We are pleased to be part of your journey. We would like to offer our support by supplying Atticus all the boots or coats he ever needs (or wants).”

And we are pleased to have Muttluks as part of our journey. We couldn’t have done all we’ve done without them.

As for a shoe deal for a little dog? Heck, if Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant can rate deals from Nike, the best athletic shoe company in the business, why shouldn’t Atticus, a driven and athletic dog also get his own boot deal from the best dog boot company in the business?

I thank Marianne Bertrand for thinking of us. But this is not the first time Ms. Bertrand has gone about helping remarkable animals. You can read much about her past and various good deeds on the Muttluk website.

I thought of Marianne and her company when Atticus and I walked through the snow this morning on the way to the post office. It’s not climbing a mountain but walking to the Jackson P.O. during a full winter storm has its own challenges. And they are made all the easier thanks to Atti’s Muttluks.

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