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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"The earth laughs in flowers." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Will enjoys flowers from Kathryn Payne, a woman
in Colorado Springs, Colorado he's never met.)
believe in happy endings.  I just never expected one for Will after meeting him for the first time when he was transferred to us in a Connecticut parking lot by a good-hearted trio from the New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue thirteen months ago.

After the five hour drive back to Jackson I was utterly depressed and wondered how long I should keep him alive for.  That’s how hopeless he was, how much pain he was in, how angry this little dog was.  I remember thinking, “What have I gotten us into?”

When we stopped along the Kancamagus Highway and I went to get him out of the car to stretch his legs he whipped his head around and sunk his teeth into my thumb, punctured a tendon, and held on for all he was worth.  At that moment something funny happened to me.  Instead of jerking back or getting angry with him I suddenly put myself in his place as my blood trickled down his throat. 

Here was a fifteen year old dog with cataracts and very limited sight.  He was deaf, in pain, and just a week or so before he’d been deposited in a kill shelter by the only family he’d ever known.  I imagined how I would feel.  Abandoned in a strange setting, cold, alone, without those he’d known for all those years.  It had to be a shock to him.  I imagined he felt betrayed, frightened, angry – and utterly alone.  Then when a good-hearted soul from the shelter knew how desperate his plight was they called NJSR and Will at least got out of the shelter but in his head he didn’t know his life had been saved. I imagine all he knew is that he was being shuttled from person to person on his way to ending up here in Jackson and that had to feel demoralizing.  He had, after all, lost his home, even if it wasn’t much of one.  Imagine how discarded and defeated he had to feel – how utterly empty and alone.

In those first few days I talked to our vet and wondered how long I should keep him alive for because yes, he was alive, but not a life I’d want or any animal should have to endure.  But I also continued to put myself in his place, even when he bit me as often as he did. 

The first morning in Jackson he thrashed as I carried him outside to go to the bathroom, shivered in the cool May morning air, and tried to bite me again as I held up his weakened hips as he went to the bathroom.  When we made it back inside I put him down and he came after me.  Atticus wisely jumped up on the couch as Will snarled and flashed his teeth. 

I ended up sitting on the floor in front of the couch and let Will approach me.  I let him set the pace.  Eventually I was petting him and he lay down in front of me and fell asleep with his paw on my leg.  I remember thinking, “I get it, Will.  You want to be in charge.  You want things on your terms.”

One week turned into two and I still believed we were only giving him a place to die with dignity.  But for some reason I spent the money to get his rotten teeth cleaned and had one painful one removed.  And each day, as much as he was everything Atticus wasn’t (and I don’t mean that in a positive way) I did my best to imagine what it was like to be Will. 

One morning Atticus and I came home from a walk and I noticed that this little deaf dog was sleeping with his ear pressed up against the leg of the coffee table and I knew then was feeling the vibrations coming from the speakers on top of the table as music played.  From that moment on Will always had music to listen to – or to feel. 

Soon after that I noticed him lingering in the backyard, even though he couldn’t stand in one place for very long, sniffing the wild flowers.  He’d do this whenever I took him outside.  So one day I bought him flowers and left them by his bed when he was sleeping and he woke up to them and buried his face in them and went back to sleep.  When he eventually got up to get a drink he returned to his flowers and lay down next to them with his cloudy eyes and rested his head in them.

From that moment on Will not only had music, he also had flowers nearby. 

Will’s come a long way since those first weeks.  The death row dog with little reason to live has embraced life.  He’s become loving and seeks out love.  He’s even become a fine teacher. He has overcome several serious obstacles many I know fail to clear as he shows us it’s never too live, never too late to love, never too late to be loved, and never too late to trust. 

Each morning, after he eats his breakfast, he comes over to the couch where I’m sitting with Atticus and he nudges my foot with his nose and I reach my fingers out to him and the mouth that used to bite now gently licks my fingertips and I know what he wants.  I pick him up and cradle his body against my chest and turn sideways so he can look outside.  He likes that even though all he seems to see are shapes and shadows and movement.  He puts his head side by side with mine and leans against me as he gazes silently for several minutes.  Eventually his head sags, his breathing gets deeper, and I’ll hear a snore.  Soon his head is resting on my chest over my heart and he’s in a little ball in my arms sleeping soundly and, more importantly, safely. 

And the little dog who didn’t ever seem to know when Atticus and I were coming going – or care, now comes out of the bedroom within a minute of us returning home on those occasions we go out without him. I tell myself he feels the vibration of the door closing.  And when he sees me he tries to jump up to say hello but his hips are too weak from all that time he had been kept in a crate to keep him out of the way.  So he does a succession of happy little bunny hops and he whimpers an equally happy song as he excitedly comes to me to play.  And those eyes that can’t see much, they are still clouded with cataracts, but they now shine with love and belonging. 

Last week I told a story on Facebook about how I get flowers for Will every week and how when we go to Carrie Scribner’s wonderful flower shop here in Jackson, Dutch Bloemen Winkel, the ladies started asking if the flowers are for Will.  If they are they go with even more fragrant flowers.  (I love that they ask!)

That’s how far Will has come in his new life.  People care about him.   Carrie and her staff care what he likes. He’s often mentioned by Roy Prescott on WMWV’s morning radio show here in the Mount Washington Valley, and was even a guest on it.  And whenever we stop at For Your Paws Only to buy food, if he is not with us, Kendra or one of the others will ask, “How’s Will doing?”  And if he is with us they fawn over him as he walks around the store.  And people around town now greet him as they’ve always greeted Atticus when we walk the loop with Will in his wagon.  “Good afternoon, Atticus.  Good afternoon, Will.  Hey, Tom.” 

It is a life reclaimed and one worth living and with it come’s a lot of happiness and laughter in our little home.  But last week there were tears too – however, they were happy ones.

You see, when I wrote about Will’s love of flowers and my ritual of picking them up for him each week, some were left on my car with an unsigned note – “For Will.”  The next day another bunch appeared with another note.  This time they were left on our stairs and the note said, “For Will, we know he loves his flowers.”  Then there was a knock on the door and there was Carrie with a beautiful arrangement sent all the way for Will from a woman in Colorado Springs.  Kathryn Payne and her boyfriend, Bryan Dresser, a member of the Air Force, follow us on Facebook and have become big fans of Will and Bryan saw to it that Will received flowers from Kathryn with a note that read, “We love you Will!” 

When Bryan read of
Carrie’s Dutch Bloemen Winkel he quickly called and placed the order for Will. When I read that card and sat down on the floor with Will as he sniffed those beautiful flowers, my eyes filled with tears that came straight from my heart.    

Even more flowers came in over the next few days, all for Will, all from people who read about his love of them.  I put them in a vase (or a mason jar, since I’ve run out of vases), and Will sits in front of them as best he can (he can’t sit for long with those long-neglected hips) and he smells them and something tells me he thinks he's found heaven!

To this day I continue to put myself in Will’s place (just as I’ve always done with Atticus) as I did that first day he bit me.  The difference is that I no longer think of him being angry, frightened, abandoned, betrayed, and utterly alone in this world.  What I think of is how joyful he is and how he celebrates the little things in life, and how a once unwanted dog has turned into a much loved soul and not just here in our little home, but from people all around the country and even the world.  Somehow I believe he feels it. 

I do believe in happy endings and Will is proof that they do exist.  For once there was a little dog who was left to die – instead he chose to live!   


(If anyone in this world was made to work with flowers it's Carrie Scribner.  She has a gift that's as natural as it is unexplainable and we highly recommend Dutch Bloemen Winkel. Her website is
www.dutchbw.com and the number is (603) 383-9696. Check her out if you need flowers in the Mount Washington Valley.  We're thrilled to have her just down the street in our little village!)

44 comments:

Elizabeth said...

This is beautiful and made me cry happy tears for Will! Thank you for taking him in and for giving him a life and sharing him with us!!!

Sharon said...

Wonderful piece! Thank you for sharing your lovely family with us.

Milo and Alfie Marshall said...

Sending love and purrs to Will. We love his happy ending.

Wingo1017 said...

This is so wonderful. So happy for Will and you and Atticus. I have to thank my son William for finding the article that led us to a tiny bookstore in Jackson last summer where we bought 2 copies of your book. We have been with you since. Following everyday. We love you Will!!!

Anonymous said...

You were right when you said that happy tears would come.I am so pleased that others sent Will the flowers. I will admit the idea came to my mind and while I didn't act on it at the time, you never know when Will might receive some from Dayton, OH. Thank you again for your life affirming posts, they mean so much! Now excuse me while I go find a box of tissues to dry the river flowing down my cheeks.
Denyse

Ginny Suhr said...

There are no better stories than the ones describing how Will has learned to love again...or maybe even for the first time...because of the love he has been shown. This is the absolute beauty of rescue--all that these neglected creatures teach us about life and love, giving and gratitude, renewal and redemption.
Thanks, Tom. Heart full today with thoughts of your little friends. Peace and love.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

This has touched me more than anyone will ever know... your devotion as well as your 4 legged ones is so selfless...

Terry said...

As if the facebook page were not enough tenderness, now I find this blog! OH NO! I don't know how I will get through the day with teary eyes...How is it I have come to truly love two little pups I've never met, as though they were my own? All this is testimony to love, love shared, and the power of words. What a blessing both blog and fb page are to us all! How generous of Tom & Co. to share their lives...I can't imagine all the people (and pets!) touched by your sharing. Thanks again <3

jayne said...

Awesome -- I love a happy ending! Enjoy Atticus & Will!

Anonymous said...

Hard to type through the tears. Bless you Tom!! Thank you! Thank you for all you add to our lives. Words are not adequate to express the wonderful transformation you have made possible for Will.

anita said...

Tom, you have such a wonderful soul - and Atticus and Will are so lucky to have found you... As you are so lucky to have found them. your posts give so many a wonderful moment, in this case, a Will moment! thank you

jayne said...

Awesome -- I love a happy ending. Enjoy Atticus & Will!

JT said...

So, so beautiful: "A life reclaimed, a life worth living." How much we have to learn from these beautiful souls. Grateful for sharing with us Will and Atticus and you and yours, Tom.

snowwalker said...

Even tho i have never met Atticus or Will, I have grown very fond of them.

Donna and Carson said...

Sometimes it's good to start the day with happy tears. And fresh flowers

Karen Kearns said...

Since we know what to send to Will, what can we send to Atticus?

Lavinia Lavini said...

You are special, Tom.
Thank you for sharing your gentle soul. God bless you all, humans and dogs.

Anonymous said...

You're special, Tom. Thank you for sharing your gentle soul. God bless you all, humans and dogs! <3

HelenannM said...

Awww. How much finer this world would be if we met people right where they are...
Will sneefs the flowers, and we *sneef* the fragrance of his rejuvenation! Bless you Tom, Atticus and Will!

Anonymous said...

I am so captivated by Will & his wonderful journey with you & Atticus! Dreams do come true! I am a true believer in that! Hope I have the pleasure of meeting Will, Atticus & you again soon! Jan

colodreamer said...

A new life was born the day you picked Will up and brought him home. He is a teacher for all of us who live in this busy world. Thank you for sharing Will and Atticus with me because reading the stories calms me and reminds me of what this world is about. Love.

Nancy said...

Such a beautiful love story!

Shannon Zapf said...

I continue to be amazed at the changes in Will, but I do know that love can make great things happen. I'm so glad that Will became part of your family. You and Atticus were perfect for him. Will needed a special family, and that is just what he received. All of you are very lucky.

Thank you for sharing your lives with us. I wish Will and Atticus could know how much of a difference they make in people's lives, too. We can tell you, Tom, but we can't tell them. You are a very generous soul, and I can never thank you enough for what you do!

Sharon Hasbrouck said...

How beautiful! In the midst of all of the heartache of the Black Forest fire here in Colorado, it is so good to read of rebirth and renewal. That is my hope for the folks here who have lost so much. It also just occurred to me that Will is using the one sense that is still working well when he revels in the smell of fresh flowers. Bless him and bless you.

Pam Hicks said...

Wow, Tom. The best of humanity & the animal kingdom & the ultimate expression of love. Thank you.

courtney camp said...

AWWWWWWWWWWW! YAY!!!!! GREAT STORY!!

Nancy said...

What a wonderful message, Tom, it brought tears as I read about Will's transformation. Afterward all I could think about is how the Lord saved the best for last for precious Will's life. I'm so grateful for the message Will's life brings. To think the message may not have happened had many not cared and had he not been given a second chance at living.

Bonnie said...

Thank you for sharing the powerful sweetness & love that comes from doing the right thing, at the right time, with those present in your life. Much love and appreciation for allowing us to share this beauty.

Becky said...

Beautifully written! Hugs to ALL of you! Onward!

Kathy W. said...

Thanks for always bringing a tear and a smile to me every day, God bless all of you and tell Will and Atticus hello for me.

Sandy Didner said...

The best line in the book To Kill A Mockingbird occurs when Scout complains to her father, Atticus Finch that her teacher hit her and treated her very badly in other ways, and Atticus tells her to put herself in her teacher's place and see the world from that person's eyes. Too often, we only think how others have injured us and do not try to understand and observe the world from their viewpoints. That you have done this , not only from your dog Atticus'' view but also from Will's and written about it so eloquently has touched people's hearts all over the world. May all of us follow your example and like Will, who was once angry, be able to smell the flowers and feel wonderful music.

Mémère and Papa said...

So, so very special you all are. Atticus and Will have found their heaven on earth living with you. Such a beautiful love story. Thanks for sharing.

Carter W Rae said...

You have no idea Tom what a joy it is to have an Atticus and Will time in the day Thank you and thank you for taking the time to give this to us Atti's Army!! Hugs to the boys and the very best of blessings to the pack ... from us

Neens xx said...

I'm so grateful that Will ended up with Tom and Atticus.

Pam Prince said...

What a delight it is to share in Will's recovery...we all transform along with him...it's so beautiful! Thank you Tom for sharing your life with us....We are forever Following Atticus.....and our sweet William L. .....

kimmers said...

God bless you Will...you have a world full of people that care about you and love you!

Cherie said...

You are blessed and you bless us regularly with your updates and stories. Thank you.

Priscilla Welcome said...

Stop and smell the roses..... that's what Will is telling us! Dogs teach us so much about ourselves! Take care everyone!

judy said...

Thank you for your compassion. What a wonderful story!

Anonymous said...

Every time we drive through Jackson to a hike I think of Will and Atticus and you. I never see you of course, but to rephrase the Little Prince: "What makes Jackson beautiful,' said the little prince, 'is that somewhere it hides a Will".

John

Anonymous said...

Tom, your thoughfulness, consideration and completely unconditional love for Will and Atticus has many followers everywhere, right round the world. I frequently check your blog from here in Australia and genuinely love Will, Atticus and you - if only there were more like you and more of those that show they care by commenting on your entries, in the world it would be a so much nicer place.

Will may have found a loving home, but we have found in you, as you report about your hikes and Will's recovery, a leader to a better world. You are a champion.

With every best wish from Country Victoria

Neil Chisholm

Mavrick and Sharyn said...

love that story about Will made me laugh and cry and yes it made me want flowers. what an amazing little dog so much heart and courage to keep going like he does.

Kat French said...

Little Will reminds me of Ferdinand the bull who loved to sniff the flowers. Any creature can enjoy God's creation. I am so glad that you took a chance on Will and showed him that there was a better life than what he had experienced in the past. I don't understand why anyone would mistreat and abuse such a wonderful soul. Thank you for Will and thank you for Atticus.

Miss Mel said...

I've been following the stories of Tom, Atticus & Will but hadn't read the backstory if Will & his flowers until now. Lovely - bless you Tom and your precious pups.