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.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

"Carry him with you wherever you go...and don't let anyone else hold him..."

Trust brought Atticus to the top of New England in subzero wind chill.
That was the advice of Paige Foster, Atticus's breeder, way back in the beginning.  She followed it up with "Y'all will bond that way."  She was right, of course.  Because of the lessons in life and love from Paige, Atticus has led a most unusual life.  The seeds for that life are touch and trust. 

When Will came into our home a month ago people wanted to know why it was important for me to be able to pick him up - especially when he didn't want anything to do with being picked up.  It's because of Paige and her advice. 

Touch leads to trust and when there's trust, there's nothing that can't be accomplished between friends. 

I know Will is never going to be able to climb a mountain but I'm proud of the obstacles he's faced to this point.  He came to us hurt, abandoned, neglected, and in pain.  He was angry and, as I've pointed out in the past, he lashed out with the only thing he had - his teeth.  But those days are long gone.  Will now wants to be picked up.  He nudges me constantly with his nose when I'm on the couch.  It's his way of letting me know he wants to sit with me.  Since it isn't possible for him to get up on the furniture, I lift him and instead of being angry about it, like he was in the beginning, he pushes to get closer.

Tomorrow, Will has a grooming appointment.  A month ago he had his first and I was faced with a decision.  He'd been abandoned, then shuffled from rescuer to rescuer until he finally landed with us.  And while I knew he was home, I wanted him to know he wouldn't have to ever go anywhere else, and would never be abandoned again.  I gave some thought of staying at the grooming appointment but decided I would leave him in Tracy's good hands at her
Ultimutt Cut Pet Salon. She had blocked off time for Will, knowing he had special needs, and made certain no other dogs would be there.  This allowed Atticus and I to go for a walk and share some needed alone time, and while Will became agitated after we left him with Tracy, I felt it was important for him to learn the lesson that we would come back for him.  We will always come back. 

It was the right decision. 

Will needs a lot of attention - when he's awake, which is not very often.  When he sleeps, it gives Atticus and I a chance to get out for our walks or go on hikes.  When we return, Will is often right where we left him, curled up like a sleeping chipmunk on one of his beds. 

What a joy it is for him to see us when he opens his eyes and lets the shadows and light adjust to know we are here.  This is especially true on the times when we've returned to see him in a different location and when he awakens he gets the message clearly - they came back!

I'm often asked what the secret is to building trust with a dog.  I'm no expert - I simply treated first Max, then Atticus, and now Will as I wished I would be treated if I was in their respective situations.  I know I'd want to be loved and reassured.  Because of the world we live in, dogs rely on us to set the tone of the relationship.  Society's rules are made for people so I figure, as I wrote in our book, there are very few rules: keep them safe, shared respect, and respect for other people, animals, and places. I think one of the greater gifts we can lead our animal friends to in the world is a strong sense of self. 

At the basis of this is something we all understand - a loving touch - which leads to trust. 

A month ago Will didn't want to be touched all that much.  If you look at my left hand in the photo below you can see some of the scars from his bites back then.  Now, he longs for it.  Now we connect through it. 

So while Will never will climb Mount Washington, as Atticus has numerous times in each of the seasons, he's reaching new heights every time he lets down his walls and lets love in again.
Trust brought Will home.


Nelson's Mama said...

Not sure if you ever watch "The Dog Whisperer", but he always says "that dogs don't live in the past". Will seems to be an example of that - he's willing to live in the now and you are right there with him.

Love Will's journey with you and Atticus...

Tom (and Atticus) said...

Thanks, Nelson's Mama, but I've never watched the show. And I can't really say I completely agree. I refuse to think that all dogs are alike, just like I refuse to believe that all people can be categorized. There are some animals that don't just live in the present. They have memories as we can often see time and again. I've known of animals who died of a broken heart after the person they were most attached to also died.

Penni Glenz said... your ability to connect us all with you...Atticus...and Will through your writing. I am so touched by your story that now includes Will....I don't know when...but I hope you find the time to write your next book. In the meantime....I love your is a continuation of a truly wonderful....touching story. Thanks Tom...

Unknown said...

Will is a wonderful reminder to us all that life can get better... Never give up!

Thank you Tom, for sharing Atticus and Will with all of us.

Blessings to you 3.

Pam Hicks said...

This is the most loving community I have ever experienced...& this blog says it all - thanks again!!

Kathryn Wightkin said...

What a beautiful post, Will is a lucky dog and so are you and Atticus. Give them a pat from me.

Unknown said...

Now now you just left me with a tear or two in my eyes!
Best wishes Molly

Lynne O'Rourke said...

I watch The Dog Whisperer & believed what Caesar said until last weekend. Every June, the shelter where we adpoted Ozzie from has a Pet Celebration Day & lots of adoptees come back. We went last year when Ozzie was only 6 months old & he had a great time. This year, as soon as we got near the cages where some dogs were out his tail went between his legs & he was miserable. He wouldn't interact with any of the other dogs OR the people. He is usually a very social dog. I am not sure if he was overwhelmed by the scene, or he remembered where he came from & was scared that he was going to be left there. After an hour we decided to leave. As soon as we got past the cages, his tail went back up & he snurfled some late arrival dogggies and humans. Needless to say, we will not be going back next year.

Mollie said...

There are days I feel as Will must. And that when I let down my walls I can let love in again. Your words, Tom, bring me to tears--tears of joy, of hope, of knowing that someone understands others in a way many people don't or don't take the time to understand. You are an angel among us, and Atticus and Will are your angels. Thank you from the deepest part of my soul.Sweet sleep, Will, Atticus and Tom.

Maureen Stuckey said...

I just read your article in the NorthCuntry News It was wrapped round some Advantage Topical Flea Solution I had ordered from Amazon. What wonderful people you must be to take a dog with so many alments. His previous people must not have been able to pay the vet bills for his health care. I am so glad he has found a wonderful home with y'all. Maureen Stuckey

drea said...

I totally understand your attitude towards old Will. My almost 16 years miniature schnauzer, named Toto died yesterday, I put him sleep after two weeks serious illness, he should have surgery because of his kidney and bladder stones but he was not suitable for surgery he was so weak. He was already almost totally blind, deaf, incontinent. Two years ago he exactly looked like Atticus and he also liked long excursions. He was my first and last dog, I can't bear the pain he is not with me anymore, I am crying all day.

nick stubbs said...

This is a great story. When we got my dog, he was 10 weeks old and from Maryland. We brought him to my house in Northern Jersey and he was not into it. For the first two or three weeks he would not want to do anything, which is understandable, I mean, he missed his mother. Although once he realized we were his new parents and we would be able to treat him better than he could have ever imagined, he warmed up. The point is, love is all that matters these days.

Dawn said...

You are a good man, Tom Ryan.

Anonymous said...

I have Winnie, the mini-schnauzer black and silver like Attitcus! I so enjoyed your book. They are truly such a wonderful breed of dog. Thank you for writing such a lovely and heartwarming account of your life together.