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.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Will in December


Will greets the morning snow on December 2nd. It's good to be alive!
It’s a fine December morning and we’re feeling good.  There’s a coating of crusty snow on everything and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Jackson.  Better than that, as you can see by the photograph, Will is enjoying the snow. 

There was a time I wasn’t certain he’d live long enough to see it. 

When he arrived in May he was frail and bitter, he was in pain and ill-suited for much of anything but snapping and getting angry. He threw temper tantrums and did his best to bite me whenever he could. The first morning I took him outside and he shivered, even though it wasn’t cold.  I didn’t think he’d last a month or two.  Worse, I feared I’d have to make a tough decision so soon after bringing him into our home because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure why he was kept alive. 

He was fifteen, had been neglected and abandoned.  He struggled to walk.  It was nearly impossible getting him in and out of the car or up the stairs to where we live without him attacking me.  He was alive, but he wasn’t living.

I was so depressed that first day I met him and wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.  But I remembered why we took him in in the first place – to give him a place to live out his days with dignity, and a place to die with dignity. 

With that in mind I set out to make him comfortable, to help him understand he was allowed to be himself, even if that meant getting angry.  Because, quite frankly, I’d be awfully angry if the only people I ever knew dropped me off someplace where I was left alone without much sight, without hearing, without an ability to get around, and there was a good chance no one would want me and all that was left for me was to be put out of my misery. 

I also decided to give him what he wanted – food!  He was starving for food and I wanted to put some meat on his bones, always a touchy balance because of his decayed hips (he’d been crated for far too long), just in case he made it to the autumn so he wouldn’t be cold.

And when his guard was down – when he was sleeping – I’d drape a blanket or towel over his shivering, elderly body and put flowers, which he seemed to like, near him for when he woke up.  I played music so he could feel the vibrations.  I lay on the floor with him – on his level – and we started to bond, and I talked to him, even though he couldn’t hear me.  I also touched him, a lot.  I touched him whenever I could when we were on the floor together.  Oh, there were times he’d still bite me, and even then I gave him permission to do that if that’s what he felt he needed to do.  I guess I did this to let him know I’d respect him, respect his right to feel whatever he was feeling and allowed him to express whatever he wanted to express.  (Thankfully, he never went after Atticus, only me.  Then again, Atticus saw his behavior and stayed away from him, always seeking comfort where he most finds it – by climbing.  Not mountains, since we don’t have any in our home, but onto the furniture, where he’s always been welcome and Will couldn’t reach.)

Over time Will stopped being so angry.  Like most of us, he simply wanted to know he could be mad if he wanted to be.  Give someone that opportunity and they rarely stay made very long – that is, if they have half a heart.  He realized, I guess, that he could simply be Will.  And while there are times he still throws a minor temper tantrum, they are so rare they happen less than once a month and they are mostly associated with the pain he is in.    

Since arriving in May Will has gained seven pounds and we’ve cut back on the food and he’s a rather happy, well-fed fellow who no longer shivers outside, even when it’s only 25 degrees, as it is this morning, or 12 degrees as it was the other night.

And Will, who was in such pain he didn’t like being touched, well, this morning when it was time to come inside, I scooped him up into my arms and rolled him over on his back and carried him up the stairs like a little baby, his rear legs stretched out and his head dangling in about as relaxed a position as he could possibly be in.

So yes, it is a good morning.  I’m happy to report that Will has become Will.  He’s alive and well, happily living out his days.  He takes comfort in eating good food; listening to (or feeling) music; smelling beautiful flowers, greens, and candles; being touched and held and even gently wrested with; watching the shadows move about him; and most of all, he simply loves being loved and knowing he belongs. 

The best part of each day here is when Will wakes up.  He’s an old fellow and he groans in his bed as he takes inventory of his aches and pains and looks for a way to get to his feet – which isn’t easy.  When he does, he stumbles about a bit, usually bumping into a wall, and finds his balance. Then when he sees me something magnificent happens. He becomes a puppy again. He greets me by wanting to play. He’d jump on me if he could.  He spins and dances and prances about and joy flashes brightly in his eyes and overcomes the dullness of his cataracts.  It is a morning ritual we can only smile at and laugh with.  It’s pure, unmitigated elation. 

Will is my morning reminder to show gratitude.  I’m not only grateful he’s still alive and doing well, he’s grateful, too, and he shows it each morning.  What better way to start each day than by giving thanks?

With Christmas on its way, I’m happy to report that the tree will go up today and eventually there will be presents under it for a little dog we didn’t think would live long enough to see it.  But Will not only lives in our happy little home in the heart of the White Mountains, so does gratitude, peace, hope, and love.
   

49 comments:

Jessica Lahey said...

That certainly was a nice way to begin my day. Thanks, Tom and Will.

And speaking of presents, I think Santa might bring Abby some Muttluks this year...

Tom (and Atticus) said...

Good morning, Jess. And what a nice way to beging my blogging day, with a comment from you!

Let me know how Abby likes them.

Anonymous said...

Just lovely. Thanks so much!

Kate B said...

What a great story to start the day! So happy Will is doing well.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful blog this morning and what a fine tribute to the power of unconditional love! Have a wonderful day Ryan clan.
Denyse

Debbie West said...

Tom, I am so grateful there are people like you. I founded a schnauzer rescue back in 2003 and had so many people comment that they couldn't believe that there was a need for it. I have so many stories of successes and failures, but Will's story really warms my heart. It is so wonderful to be able to give a precious little dog back the life that he so deserves. Thanks so much for sharing the stories of your precious companions.

Deb

imeanit said...

What a moving tribute to Will and what a testament to the grace that comes of loving and respecting all of God's creatures at all stages of life. I'm touched by your love and compassion, not to mention your ability to write so movingly about your experience with Will. I'll look forward to picking up your book.

Moniera said...

Yay Will! Yay you for putting in the love to turn this dogs life around.

Janice Hummel said...

You know, I've often felt that tears are not always of sorrow, but of joy and cleansing. Reading this blog this morning brought tears to me...of joy for Will, knowing that he is wrapped in unconditional love. And of sadness, wishing that Will had found you long ago and could have enjoyed a life knowing sweet music and tender touches. Thank you, Tom, for redefining what love and hope is for some of us. You and your family have a blessed Sunday.

Michele said...

It is, indeed, good to be alive. Thanks for the great start to my day. :-)

Patty said...

I love hearing Will's story, and hearing about the transforming power of love in his life. You guys have made such a difference for him and Atticus. Our mini schnauzer Chance is such a joy to us, and it warms my heart to read your words. Bless you for the care you give to "the least among us."

Sandy said...

Beautiful blog Tom. Tears in my eyes. Joy in my heart. Thankfulness always.

Mary F. said...

What a transformation for Will! Thank God he found you!

Karin said...

Having met William at a book signing I knew that he will in his perfect home. He was so happy to meet people and be around everyone ... happy to be alive. Bless you for accepting William into your home (and heart).

Sharon said...

What a wonderful story. Bless Will and bless you for saving his life and making him happy!

Joanne Davis Yarvis said...

Will's transformation continues to amaze me. I love reading about his progress. Our Lucy is 13, with some arthritis & cataracts as well. She was just as depressed as we were after we lost our beloved Stewart to cancer last Dec (he used to stop and watch to make sure she could make it up the stairs - images of him I will never forget). Lots of love helped reverse her depression. Reading about Will's strides reminds me of how fortunate we've been that we didn't lose Lucy as well. Will & Atticus are such lucky boys to have you -- and we are so lucky to read about their accomplishments. Have a happy Sunday!

Harvee Lau said...

So sweet! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful to see Will's transformation. I swear his eyes look brighter in his recent photos!

TheBookFetish said...

So eloquently said, Tom. I think all of us- including our four legged friends and family- are looking for love and connection. Your family as certainly given that to Will. It made me happy to read this today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for wonderful blog, Tom. It makes me feel good about the way I've handled our dog's problems (Silky) that we rescued. We feel he may have been abused because he was misunderstood. In the 2+ yrs we've had him, he has taught us a lot tricks. He tries to teach me a new one every day!
FS Gilbert Rollinsford, NH

Linda Lynch said...

As always, you bring tears of joy to my eyes, Tom. There was a plan for Will and it certainly appears that you were part of it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there is so much joy in Will's redemption because so much pain preceded it. I do know that each good day he has is a new creation - and he's already bloomed into a lot of them in the months since you and Atticus adopted him.I see so many people who shop for a new dog like a new car, making sure he or she sports the perfect list of accessories. Meanwhile, millions languish without homes. Thanks for embodying the unconditional love and acceptance that is the true meaning of adoption.

Christine Patton said...

You both warmed my heart this morning! Love reading your stories and looking at the pictures. Your bring back memories of my hiking trips!

Darlene Clark said...

Thank you once again for the happy tears you have brought to me! My "baby", Dolly, is nearing 12yrs with cataracts replacing vision, the aches and pains starting to show! I can only imagine what Will has gone through! Thank God he found you and Atticus! He looks to be a very happy boy these days! God Bless you and your family!

Cindy said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. Truly heartwarming...and a good reminder for me to be patient and understanding with my seniors (four-legged and two-legged alike!).

Anonymous said...

Tom, I rarely post comments on any site but I cannot hold back from letting you know how much I enjoyed your update on Will. I loved the book and I see many parallels to my own life in Irish-Catholic New England so I have continued to cherish your blog and your Facebook.

I hope I am as good to "my" Miniature Schnauzer as you are to Atticus and Will.

Take care!

Karen Tannous said...

So glad I read this book and now get the chance to read such wonderful words of love between dogs and their owners! Or, rather it seems they're the owners of our hearts! I look forward to reading more about Tom, Will and Atticus. Thank you for this page-Karen (owned and loved by my 15 year old Pug, Mu-Shu)

Carter W Rae said...

You really are a remarkable man Tom.. We are all glad to share this with you ... Will is a part of the Atticus Story now I think and a compliment to it all .. Life is sacred and a gift it always needs to be nurtured Thanks for your efforts in sharing ... much love and respect to you and the pack for ours ... Stay warm and safe over there...

Sharon said...

Tom, Thank you for such a heart warming story. Each day I check your blog and get inspired. I teach children in the area of reading and I only hope I can affect their lives the way you have affected so many especially Atti and Will. Thank you again and we look forward to your next blog and next book.

Donna M. said...

You make my heart melt with the love that you show to your little pals. They are truely blessed to have you in their life as are all of us who follow you.

In My Dreams said...

Once again, thank you for sharing with us. Following Atticus blog and posts are a priority for me each day. And they make a difference in my life. What a gift.

Anonymous said...

Tom you are an amazing man and writer. I have turned into a junkie for your blog. A dear friend loaned me your book, she thought I would enjoy it as I share the same type of love and respect for my dog. You have touched my life at a very vulnerable time. I believe fate brings people into our lives when we need them. Although I have not had the pleasure of meeting you in person, you have surely warmed my heart. Atticus, Will and you are fortunate to have each other. Animals can give and teach us so much; which you obviously understand. Thank you for being the amazing person that you have allowed us to witness.

Anonymous said...

Amazing...that's Will and that's you. Will and his incredible journey have grabbed my attention, too. I love watching his bedtime videos on your Facebook page. Will's contentment is so evident when you kneel down and tuck him in. I have simply fallen in love with your little elderly gentleman!

Jan MacDougall said...

I am constantly touched by the the stories of the healing that you all have brought into Will's life. Your unconditional love for him is a powerful force.Thank you for continuing to share his story. He is one lucky dog! :-)

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

Thank you Tom~~your writing today about Will is just beautiful~~the perfect Christmas story!

Anonymous said...

I hope that whoever dropped Will off, like Ebenezer Scrooge, will somehow see your blogs and be redeemed by the spirit of Tiny Tim in Will, and the ghosts of Christmas present in you.

John

Pam Hicks said...

Profound, but I've come to expect that from you, Tom! Much love to you four :-)

Ellen Snyder said...

Happy December Tom, Atticus, and Will. A great post and picture of Will's character and yours! Happy dogs in snow always makes me happy. Thanks Tom, Ellen

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, loved your book! I have never posted on a blog before but was compelled this morning. My old girl Chloe is 15 and struggling. She has lost 4 pounds in the past 6 months. I struggle to get her to eat daily. Any advise you might have would be greatly appreciated as I have no idea how much longer I will have her and I am a mess daily over the thought of her no longer being with me. She has take every step I have taken for the past 14 years. I am a Realtor and Chloe has been my companion at open houses and showing homes to clients. She can't really go to work with me as she struggles to control her bladder and such. She has never been a lap dog very much her own dog. Over the past few months she allows me to sit close and pet her. She hates to be picked up but does allow me to put her on the couch since she can't jump up any longer. I stop by the house 3-4 times daily to take her out and check on her. Thank you for your blog I enjoy it!

Genevieve C. said...

I've never commented on a blog either but I've also never read one as touching. I recently listened to the audiobook of Following Atticus, wonderfully read by Tom. I didn't want it to be over, so I came to the blog. I haven't been so moved by a book in a long time. And now it's wonderful to read about Will's transformation. I love the picture of him in the snow! We recently adopted a Tibetan Terrier who was slated for euthanasia because he was going "kennel crazy" at the shelter. Out of the shelter and in a loving home, he's a sweet, goofy boy and I am so glad I could give him a second chance.

BarbaraAndSchnauzerkidsJarboe said...

The will to live, the will to love, the will to be happy. That is Will.

Anonymous said...

So enjoyed hearing Will's story. Sad, beautiful, so sweet.lie

wendy said...

Loved your book, love your blog! How do I find you on Facebook?

Terri said...

Such a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your journey with Will.

melF said...

How beautiful. I am so glad you took Will in and understood he needed to be angry but also gave him a chance to choose love. He is so fortunate to have you guys in his life. THank you for sharing his journey with you and you with him.

Judy said...

I just lost my schnauzer due to very sudden illness. She was a rescue, 3 yrs old when I got her. I shed quite a few tears reading your book and blog. Thanks, Judy

Ursy Trösch said...

3 days ago I already wrote a comment - but I think I made a mistake. It's the first time I write a comment to a blog. So I try again:
Dear Atticus, dear Will, dear Tom,
I just finished to read the Atticus-book in the German translation. It was published some weeks ago. An I am absolutely happy to have followed Atticus and Tom. It impressed me much how you, Tpm, describe the relationship between you an Atticus and now also Will. It's just great. I hope that now - after the book exists in German - you will have many comments also from German speaking people. Please excuse my mistakes in English, it's not my language. I wish you Atticus and Will and Tom a merry christmas with a lot of presents and a happy new year
Ursy Trösch

Laury said...

After just discovering your incredible book, I stumbled upon your blog. Love your vivid stories told in great depth, highlighted by a love for dogs. Charming. As a fellow blogger and animal lover, I'm in awe. Keep up the brilliance. -Laury My blog: www.travelphotosandthoughts.com

Tom Ledford said...

Thank you Tom, your blog is special to me for many reasons. You seem to understand how a little dog can teach us so much about ourselves. Your compassion has touched many of your readers. More importantly, it has touched Will! My best friend, Rowdy, is also a mini schnauzer. He will be two this month. He doesn't know it, but he has saved me. Your stories help to validate my belief in the power of a little dog's love.