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, June 26, 2013

"The World Loves You, Will!" (Even A Grouchy, Old Bear, It Seems)

Will’s leading a blessed last chapter.  Better yet, make that: he’s leading several blessed chapters since coming to live with us.

I’ve told Will’s story many times here but I’ll offer up a quick refresher for new readers.  At fifteen he was dropped off at a kill shelter in New Jersey by the only family he ever knew and was saved from certain death by the good people at New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue.  He then came to us arthritic, deaf, mostly-blind, neglected, and aggressive.  Atticus and I simply opened up our place to give him a place to die, but nearly fourteen months later he’s thriving.

Yes, thriving – even though he can’t walk very far because of his hips, nor can he see much more than shapes and shadows, and he’s still deaf.  He has, however, stopped snarling and biting, and he actually smiles.  He likes to play, be held, and he now often falls asleep cradled like a baby in my arms.  He participates with us, follows me from room to room, and is thrilled to be part of our little family.  

Atticus, who will never completely embrace anyone other than me, remains distant but protective of Will.  On a few occasions when Will has been coughing or choking on something Atticus approaches quite casually and nudged him with his nose and the coughing or choking stopped.  When a young bear appeared on the edge of our yard recently, Atticus just as calmly walked toward Will, who was unaware of the bear, and sat between them facing the bear.  When we are out and about and Will is walking in an unfamiliar field or on a beach, Atticus sits and serves as an anchor to the perpetually circling Will, who knows to return to Atti from time to time.  That’s about it: no cuddling, nuzzling, kissing, or playing takes place between the two of them – no matter how much others want to believe that’s the case.  But that’s enough for me.  It’s simply Atticus being Atticus.

Will with flowers sent to him from Pennsylvania.
Atticus simply doesn’t chum up with other dogs or animals. He’s patient with them, respectful of them, he even seems to be calming to them, but he doesn’t play with them.  

There is something special about the serenity emanating from Atticus that fascinates me.  Children who have always been afraid of other dogs – even to the point where therapy was needed – have approached Atticus, sat next to him, and run their hands over his soft hair.  He’s been approached by chipmunks, squirrels, voles, birds, fox, moose, and bear.  And when Will had daily temper tantrums during those first few months he always went after me and never Atticus.  He’d whirl around in seemingly uncontrolled rage, see Atticus sitting looking at him, and he’d immediately turn back to me with his aggression. 

I’m not smart enough to explain what affect Atticus has on other animals but it appears this charm may have extended to Will.  This morning we were outside, Will circling in the center of the yard while I carried Atticus and his injured paw down the stairs to the edge of the property under the trees where he likes to be – far enough away so that Will won’t bother him.

I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye that was not Will’s light body, but a big, bulky, dark mass right beside Will.  It was Butkus, the old grouch of a bear who visited our yard quite often a few years ago but we’d since lost track of.  He’s returned this summer and we’ve seen him three times over the past two weeks.  I looked up and Butkus was within ten feet of Will and side-by-side, and he seemed to have paused in his lumbering gait to watch Will.  Then, just as I readied to charge at Butkus with arms waving and my voice raised something made me stop and watch.  I’m not sure what it was.  Perhaps it was the way Butkus was looking at Will.  Within a few seconds the old bear simply walked on by and entered the trees and disappeared.  So curious.  So wonderful. 

Yes, I’m well aware that bears are wild, unpredictable, and can be troublesome and that Butkus doesn't want to be friends.  I’m also aware that more often than not our local bears are more afraid of us than we are of them and they’ll avoid dogs at all costs.  I also know they seem to be drawn to Atticus and on more than one occasion a bear has sat looking at Atticus as Atticus sat looking back.  I also know that a mother bear and her two cubs have now been in our yard four times over the last several weeks.  The first time at a distance and in the trees leading down to the Ellis River behind the house.  On two other occasions the mother and her curious cubs have walked to the edge of the yard as I laughed while playing with Will while Atticus observed.  They watched for a bit and then returned the way they came. 

Their last visit wasn’t much different than what we experienced with Butkus this morning.  Atticus and I were sitting in the Adirondack chairs in the back corner of the yard while I played with Will who was laying on his back on my thighs.  From that back corner right behind us the mother and her cubs emerged within a few feet, the mother keeping herself between us and the cubs, they all looked at us, and then made their way across the yard.  Beforeleaving the yard the mother bear stopped and looked back at us for a few seconds, and then she was gone.

These wondrous things are happening at a time when folks from twelve different states and two foreign countries have sent flowers to Will, a dog they’ve never met, because they’ve been captured by his story and have given their hearts to him.  Why send him flowers?  Because I noticed last summer that Will enjoys smelling flowers and I’ve bought them for him every week since.  However, it wasn’t until recently that I shared this on our Facebook page.  Since that post our local florist Carrie Scribner, owner of Dutch Bloemen Winkel, and 1-800-Flowers have been dropping off flowers at our place for Will from friends he’s never met. 

Atticus has always been special, but it’s been a pleasure to watch Will develop over the past year and start to shine in his own way.  He’s recaptured his flagging spirit, polished up that dented soul, and he’s enjoying his life – no matter how much is left of it.  It’s all more than I ever expected or could have hoped for.
"The world loves you, Will!" ~ Donna Haas

What do I attribute his resurrection to?  There are lots of things the logical mind can grasp: better food, medication, daily care, an improved overall quality of life.  But then there’s the intangibles, those little mysterious miracles that give us reason to sit back and wonder. There’s the presence of soulful Atticus and all those prayers and good wishes coming to Will from thousands of people who follow his happy story on our Facebook page.  

Will’s story stands in stark contrast to the dark, hopeless, and heartbreaking stories the media feeds us each day.  There’s so much darkness out there we’ve become numb to most tragedy.  Every now and again though, we are fortunate to get a glimpse of something sweet and special, even if it is something as small as the magical journey of one little broken dog from tragedy to redemption. 

I believe in happy endings.  I also believe in the power of love (when one is brave enough to leave the past where it belongs and let love in) and I believe in the osmotic power of prayer and friendship, even when it comes from afar.

When flowers come for Will they often come with notes.  The other day Donna Haas sent flowers from Pennsylvania by way of Carrie Scribner’s flower shop.  Her note seems to sum up much of Will’s happy resurrection: “The world loves you, Will! Enjoy the flowers.  Sending you lots of love.”

One of my favorite quotes from Einstein is: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”

Does the compassion and patience of Atticus, the overwhelming support of strangers from around the world . . . and even what appeared to be a bit of kindness from a grumpy old bear contribute to the now-special life of Will?  I can’t say for sure, but I’d like to believe that’s the case.  I chalk it up to Einstein’s description of the mysterious for that gives me hope for this world we live in.

Butkus, after passing by Will this morning and passing into the trees.


cindidejnozka said...

Tears of joy for all of you! said...

You and Atticus and Will are showing us that no life should ever be thrown away. This is a beautiful heartlifting story. Love you all.

Teddy said...

If you think about it, Will is a reflection of our times - broken, hurt and angry. You, Tom and Atticus, have shown that if you redirect the body to the positive, caring and acceptance the soul can once again flourish. This is the essence of Will's transformation that provides hope for all of us - it's never too late. ~Hazel & Teddy~

GratefulSusan said...

Oh, Tom, thank you for the beautiful, heartwarming story this morning of two very special dogs and quite possibly some very special bears. How special for you to be a witness to these miracles, even though they may be a bit more "ordinary" to you than to your listeners!

Bless all you brave and wise fellows, living in the moment and just watching the world in the form of bears go by. Sounds like all is well and life goes on, just as it should.

Thank you for the blissful reminder that we're all God's creatures, accepting and non-judgmental of each other. There's room here for us all, isn't there.

Enjoy, Pack! Thank you for sharing your experience! Carry on!

Unknown said...

Thanks sharing another moment in your lives that reminds me to "be a child" and enjoy the simple things.

Bonnie said...

Tom, I enjoy every experience that you share with us! I look forward to more.

Danna Hoffmaster said...

So look forward to your insights on Will and Atticus and the world in general. Atticus and Will are always a part of my early day to get it started off right. Continue to love.

mlaiuppa said...

It sounds like Atticus has that special "whisperer" quality. The ability to put all animals, including humans, at ease.

He may not be touchy feely with Will but he is aware of Will's limitations and knows when to keep a special eye out to prevent any harm to Will. That may not be affection, but it is certainly concern, compassion and generosity.

Will probably knows how very lucky he is to have found his forever family, even though it took 14 years. He may even be aware that he doesn't have that much time left. But as all true dogs he is living his life to the fullest with each moment. We should all do the same. And I'm sure he feels some gratitude to you and Atticus for the life he is now living. Will is now, finally, being allowed to be Will. And he can stop and smell all the roses he wants.

If you have not read Merle's Door I highly recommend it. You have given Atticus the same life that Merle led, and he has reacted the same way to the freedom. Atticus has been allowed to be Atticus and in so doing, he is the true dog he is. Perhaps that is why he is a "whisperer".

Kiss them both on the lips from me. Add some tummy rubs and butt scratches if they are so inclined to accept them.

Unknown said...

It warms my heart that you and Atticus are giving Will the chance he never had. There is no telling what kind of life he was forced to live, but now he has that chance to live a good life. I believe that God put us in charge of the earth and all that is within it. If we don't look after His creation then we don't have much chance to look after ourself. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

There is magic in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for sure! Great post as always, thank you Tom for being you!

~ Steff said...

There's something so endearing about little Will, something that grabs at the heart and reminds us how incredibly special and precious life and those around us are. I love to read updates about him because it never fails to make me smile and triggers a little ache in the vicinity of my heart - keeping it soft, maybe? Will teaches us to value and love life in all stages and forms - it's never too late to smell the flowers, to dance, to live and love wholeheartedly. And Atticus? Oh Atticus...his gentle, tolerant, accepting nature is a marvelous example of how all creatures should treat each other - be there for support, for grounding or reference, and accepting differences and limitations.

Colleen Church said...

Once again your tale of love and courage and faith has touched my soul. Bless your kind heart Tom Ryan and bless the hearts and souls of Will and Atticus, who love each other, You and MRW and all God's creatures in their own individual ways.

Pam Hicks said...

b e a u t i f u l

dinya said...

Atticus' eyes are so full of depth. Will is being restored by the love that newly surrounds him. Is there enough love and wisdom in this world to overcome all the hate and stupidity that exists? For all the souls wounded, is there enough healing?

Laura D. said...

I LOVE reading of the adventures of Will and Atticus! These are two blessed little dogs!

Anne Cronin said...

Beautiful heart-warming story, Tom! Thank you!

Carter W Rae said...

Love this post Tom ... You are the Wordsmith! Beautiful narrative my friend These all make my day brighter and give pause for kindness and love... Things that are in very short supply right now! Thanks! all the best to you and the pack ...

Anonymous said...

A wonderful read as always Tom. It makes my lunch hour special. But sometimes an inadvertant detail also stands out. Atticus hurt his paw? I hope it is minor and he is back hiking soon.