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, September 26, 2013

Being Will's Friend


Will posing with a sketch of him by one of my
favorite New Hampshire artists, Chris Garby.
Well I fell down, down, down
Into this dark and lonely hole
There was no one there to care about me anymore


So starts the song “Clouds” written by the late Zach Sobiech when he was 17-years-old, before he passed away from a rare form of bone cancer.

And so starts the story of Will just before he came to us. He was dropped in a kill shelter by the only family he ever knew (no judgments here please since we don’t completely know their story) at fifteen years of age. I imagine that this poor old dog, mostly blind, completely deaf, and in such pain from rotten teeth and decaying hips (after having been kept in a crate for far too long) must have felt like he was down in some “dark and lonely hole” with “no one there to care” for him anymore.

Thanks to a good soul, New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue was called and they saved Will and we learned of his plight through Laura Bachofner, and then Atticus and I adopted him into our lives on May 6th of 2012. He was in horrendous shape.  Angry.  Betrayed.  Brittle.  In agony in more ways than one. 

I wondered why no one had put him out of his misery and thought of doing it soon after he came to live with us.  It was a nightmarish start with several nasty bites suffered (always biting me and not Atticus, then again Atticus would have nothing to do with him).  Yet somehow we ended up just as Paige Foster, Atticus’s breeder, used to say, “Y’all will work it out.”  We did work it out and I’m so happy we did.

Here it is now less than a week before October of 2013 and Will has a whole new life.  Unfortunately, he seems to be waning a bit. I’ve told him to stay for as long as he wishes but also told him he’s free to go whenever he wishes.  He’s got nothing left to prove.  He’s learned to love again, to let love in again, to live again, and to trust again.  That’s no easy feat. Not many people are as brave or successful in reclaiming life as he’s done. 

People often say to me, “Who rescued who?”  I laugh.  I know they want to romanticize a rescued dog, but the truth is Will didn’t rescue us.  Not in the least.  The one he rescued was himself.  We were just there to help him. 

In my time with him I’ve become a better person. So, while no, he didn’t rescue me, he has, however, helped me grow.  I will be eternally grateful to him for this gift.

I have no idea how much longer Will is going to last.  When the day comes to say goodbye Rachael Kleidon will join Atticus and me and we’ll find a pretty place outside to give him that special kindness and my heart will be broken. 

I’ll miss him dearly.  But I’ll be so proud to have been his friend and to have helped him reclaim his dignity, his life, and his innocence.  Because of that, and the words I write of him every day, he not only inspires thousands, but his life will go into our next book and he will live forever.  For his has been the hero’s journey if ever there was one. 

I entered this relationship with Will knowing his time with us was temporary. I thought we were doing a good deed.  What I didn’t expect was to love him like I do.  He’s a lot of work and he can be thoughtless at times, but I love him. 

I won’t be greedy.  I’ll be happy with whatever we have left, but I’m only human.  And these words from the Zach’s song could be about Will – or even about me – when it comes to saying goodbye.

If only I had a little bit more time
If only I had a little bit more time with you.
We could go up, up, up
And take that little ride
And sit there holding hands
And everything would be just right
And maybe someday I'll see you again
We'll float up in the clouds and we'll never see the end.

I love you, Will.
 

34 comments:

Betty & Lenny Fagen said...

Dear Tom,

We never have enough time with our buddies.

You'll know when the time is right. Rachel will help you to send Will off to the stars where he will become one ... he'll go with his dignity, free of pain, surrounded by love, and never alone.

Our heart aches for you.

Hugs from here to there.
Betty & Lenny

Kelly Woods Lynch said...

Once again, I am moved to tears by the power of your story, and by what this almost-lost soul brought into your life and you into his. Thank you for opening up your heart to Will, and to the rest of us so that we could get a glimpse inside.

redtail said...

Ok. I just cried some big fatty tears. Lost my little schnauzer-face almost a year ago. Their only fault is that they don't live long enough. Thank you again for sharing your, Atticus and Will's world with all of us.

Christine Hinz said...

I remember Will's first little scare, just after he found his home with you. I hadn't cried like that in years. It took me so by surprise how emotionally connected I felt to his story. Will's story and spirit has touched me so many ways. Yes, here's to Will. xo

Anonymous said...

My little Waggles, at 15.5 years, walks as fragile and gambols jerkily about when trying to play, much like Will in the video clips. It's definitely a waiting game but she gets extra kisses and cuddles every day, warm blankets to sleep on and I carry up and down the stairs to save further wear and tear on her severely arthritic knees and spine. With a small dose of meds each day, she's comfortable, happy and content.
Love my Wags, just as Tom loves Will and Atticus and, as most of us do, find the parallels of their life with mine and can feel each exquisite moment Tom expresses.

cindidejnozka said...

You gentlemen are so perfect for each other. Thank you so much for sharing your precious moments with us!

Shannon Zapf said...

This is going to sound really stupid, but...I haven't cried this hard since the last time you made me cry this hard! Just beautiful. Thank you, as always, for sharing Atticus, Will, and your journey with them.

Linda Smith said...

Tom, Will shall continue to live in all our hearts, no matter what. When he gets to those clouds he will meet my Little Guy, who loved everyone. I will then be able to see both of them in the clouds as I walk in the park or drive, they will be there letting us know it is all well with them and watching outT for us. Give Will a big hug from us.

Elsa said...

Good byes are so hard. Thank you for sharing the story of your life with Will and Atticus. Lately, each post brings me to tears. It's hard not to make it about my own difficult good byes.

Lori JK said...

Sweet Dreams and pleasant journey Will.

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

Oh dear Tom,
So beautifully expressed the sharing between you and Will of his renewed life and the unexpected love bond.
With aching heart and eyes stinging with tears, I don't envy you the future departure of Will, that being the departure all we souls must journey some day.
I do envy you the opportunity to be able to share with Will in his passage to Rainbow Bridge and back to his creator. Something stolen from me when my heart and soul canine friend Maxi passed.
For now let yourself glow in the happiness that enfolds you of the warm love expressed daily by your most courageous friend, Will.

Michelle Gray said...

I'm moved to tears by the beauty of this message. I'm sad to hear that Will's health is waning, but I'm so grateful, as I'm sure he is, at the wonderful life you have given him. You've given him so much love, and such a wonderful home. You've taken him to the top of a mountains and he's had lovely flowers to smell and romp in. And a warm cozy place to nap. What a happy life he's had with you. And we who have followed Will's hero's journey have been inspired and taught by Will to love, to trust, to let love in and to LIVE! Will is amazing. He will live forever in our hearts and in your next book.

Anonymous said...

As always your words are so touching. You paint the most poignant pictures with them. I am so grateful that I started Following Atticus at the time Will joined you and Atticus. His story captured my heart from the very beginning. When you made your picture tribute there was one picture I had hoped to see but didn't. It was you holding Will in a swimming pool while on the book tour. I don't know why but that is one of if not the favorite picture of Will for me. Thank you for giving him such tender, unconditional love. There will be millions of tears shed when he leaves this world but there is a special place in those clouds for him, that I am sure of.
I love you Will!
Denyse

Sandy Zerbinopoulos said...

Praying for you all. Sweet William has been a gift to you, Atticus, and us all. There is such poetry and mystery in the way life brings gifts and then takes them away - our hearts are filled with sadness and yet joy at the same time. Lucky Will, lucky all of us. Thank you Tom.

Anonymous said...

What a touching and insightful blog.... Thanks as always for sharing.

Cathy said...

We love him, too, though we will never meet him and so cannot love him as much as you do. I feel I know him because you have let us know him as much as we can from a distance. Thanks to you and Atticus for sharing him with us. You are a blessed trio!

Lake Lady said...

Our daughter recently got a new dog, after having her previous one pass away from cancer. That was her first ever dog and she was a rescue who had been abused. They were great for each other. Our daughter was getting to the point where she wanted to get another dog but she asked me, "Am I betraying Allie (her first dog) by wanting another dog?" My response was that she was actually paying Allie a high compliment. Allie paved they way for another rescue. This one is named Kenzie, and she is a puppy instead of an older dog. Your words, which I read often since finding you and Atticus, are what gave me the words for our daughter.

Kim Hampton said...

Will, you are indeed a little prince. <3
Xxxxxxx

"You - you alone will have the stars as no one else has them...In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night...You - only you - will have stars that can laugh.”
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, El Principito

Donna Jean said...

Moved beyond words Tom & very grateful that you continually share your deepest feelings. Will gave more than he took once you taught him about love & gave him freedom to be Will. God Bless your enormous heart. God Bless Will & as Always God Bless Atticus.

Anonymous said...

All love and strength sent your way. Blessings

Patrice Simon said...

Tom -
We know how much you love Will (and Atticus), and it saddens us all that it appears from what you've written recently that Will's circle of life is coming to a close. How lucky he's been to have met up with you, loving him from the start, through thick and thin, giving him his life again, such a better life indeed! I walk dogs at our local humane society, and it was a particularly teary day as I was able to get up early enough to read the post from last evening and listened to Willie's song before going in. Sorrowfulness for all the sadness you've been experiencing, but joyful that you made the decision you did when you decided to bring him home to pass away with dignity and comfort. I thought about how wonderful it would be if somehow all our animal friends could be treated so compassionately and lovingly as you and Atticus have with Will, not only during their younger, usually healthier years, but at the end as well. We at the shelter experience such joy, yet sadness, as we say goodbye to Bonnie and Clyde, and Annie Oakley, and Lily, and other goofy names we give to our temporary friends, hoping their new families give them a good life. I always think of you and Will, and all you've done for him, and I find I have to leave the front desk area so as to not have to watch our friends leave to go out into their new world. I pray a quiet prayer that they be blessed with new friends who are as devoted and loving as you have been with yours. For so many of us FB'ers, we have laughed and cried over the antics at the Ryan home, and we thank you for generously sharing them with us, especially when they have not always been very pleasant. As many people have expressed, you've made us better people by doing so. This must be such a difficult time for you. My heart breaks for you -- life has been so complicated for you this year, much more so than so many of us are aware, but you've soldiered on, comfortable that you're where you were meant to be. I wish you peace and comfort as the time to send Will on his next adventure comes closer. Maybe it's true that they wait for us on the other side of the bridge. It's always been apparent that you loved Will so much, and that love was joyfully returned. How lovely that you have expressed that in your writings. I wish you all possible peace and tranquility. So many of us also love Will. Thank you for the giving us the privilege of sharing getting to know what a wonderful fellow he is and the delight he brings to so many.

Barb Cuffley said...

Tom,
I have been following your journey from a great distance since my friend who lives in Eaton NH sent me an autographed copy of your book for Christmas 2011. I often wonder how many of us Australians are following your blogs and Facebook page, laughing and crying along with you and Atticus and Will. I, myself, feel a close affinity with the White Mountains as I have now visited them twice in the last few years not as a hiker as I don't walk so well these days but I did go to the top of Mt.Washington on the cog railway and have travelled the Kancamagus Hwy many times marvelling at the peaks all around. So I can vicariously hike with you and Atticus, I can empathise with your newly acquired love for such a venerable gentleman as Will and I do and will cry with you when Will decides to leave. As for Atticus and his imperturbable face, seemingly so wise and brave, my admiration is unbounding. I am travelling a similar road with two beloved 15 year old Westies battling the ravages of old age. Thank you for sharing your lives with us. Onwards by all means. Warmest regards.

KAT said...

Tom, I lost my daddy a week ago. I had am amazing time with him just three weeksmago. We celebrated his 82 birthday with family. He cooked every meal I love. We laughed,talked , and loved. Little did we know this was to be the end. I could not have written a better ending. Little did we know pancreatic cancer was eating away. He went in one week. A blessing. I will miss him terribly. But the gift I was given 13 amazing days with him 3 weeks ago. I live in. GA and he in WV. We will have a celebration of his life Sunday. My daddy chose to live a year and a half ago. He made some changes in his life at 80 and he LIVED this past year and a half! I've said before my dad and Will remind me of each other. What a gift you have had since you two entered into each others lives. Kimberly -Atlanta

Bev A. said...

Beginning the transition from loving someone on our common physical ground to giving them forever in our hearts is not an easy task.....but the only gateway to precious personal eternity.....

Louise Mazerov said...

Every creature we let into our lives and hearts makes us a better person. Each is hard to lose but I truly believe the best of the love is knowing when to let them go.

Carter W Rae said...

Not as much linguistic juices right at this moment although I am not a wordsmith I did get some perhaps meaningful thoughts to share ... My humble view of things is really quite simple.... These little spirits grace our lives for a time of great joy but not ever long enough; so our task is to , love them, protect and give the space they need to be themselves.. Tom you have taken all of that and more to William Lloyd Garrison for our learning , joy and sweet memories .. For all of this we are very grateful to you Tom our favorite wordsmith!! So however we see this all play out we here in Atticus land have and are savoring the ambiance and "Will" hold it all in our hearts always THANK YOU TOM

Anonymous said...

Amazing what happens to us when our hearts are open to love... Will's and yours. Thank you for caring enough to take Will in and fall in love.

Pam Hicks said...

As always, much love & thank you, Tom.....
I am approaching that time of year when I revisit my initial read of Following Atticus. In a few weeks I'll be driving up to the most northeastern corner of Maine for my annual solo retreat in my camper van. My travel companion for the drive up will be the cd version of the book. Every time I revisit my first experience of meeting you through the book, Tom & Atti, I see or feel something I missed, or something I will experience differently a few years later. It's an enduring, powerful experience & I thank you for this also.

Kathy Blais said...

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day like a treasure
And then again I could spend them with you...
Jim Croce

Priscilla Maccallum said...

As I write this Bella is sleeping across my lap and my tears are falling on her. You have given Will a lifetime of love in the short time he has been with you. That is what he knows now. I am heartbroken that Will is waning but happy that you had much more time with him than expected. I said goodbye to my furry friends at my home and it is so much more peaceful than in the office of a vet. Thank you for sharing his life and adventures with us. You have a wonderful gift in your writing.

Anonymous said...

I will never meet Will but have gotten to know him through your writing. Thank you for sharing.

Terry Schaulat said...

I love you, too, Will. And Atticus. And, yes, Tom, for sharing your story, your life with us. No matter what else, know that your life in the mountains will never be lost in my heart. You, little dog, have touched the lives of so many humans, and you have always been a gift - yes, since you were born. I don't believe in mistakes. Your life was used mightily...albeit perhaps most greatly at the end, but the happiest part for me is that now YOU know it, dear Will. You will live out all of your days knowing it. xoxooxo T.S.

Kat French said...

Tom, I remember reading in your book "Following Atticus" that you didn't like calling Atticus your furbaby or your child like a lot of people do. I'm guilty of that, but I blame it on being female and having two children plus a lot of grandchildren. It's a female thing. I have noticed in your FB posts and your blog that you are getting softer about this. With what you are going through with Atticus and his cancer treatments and not knowing from one day to the next what will happen to Will, your softer, human side is showing now. I had an accident the other day and hurt my knee pretty bad. The picture you posted of Atticus in the cart really made me feel much better even though I was in a lot of pain. An 11-12 year old dog sitting in a child's seat in a cart was so ironic and the look on his face just made my day, even though it didn't his. I always love Will's pictures, the flower loving, second chance dog that nobody took the time to give him the love you have. At least when his time comes, he will have known what it is like to be loved. I have gotten more close to my two little schnauzers thinking about Will. We are none of us promised our next breath. I got my first schnauzer in 1998 and had her for 10 1/2 years before her health got so bad I had to help her on to where she needed to go, as you will with Will and Atticus one day and believe me, it's as hard to do that as it is to help a human on to where they need to go. I learned a lot during the 10 1/2 years I had Punkin and am very careful now with my two pups I have to not make the same mistakes (if they were mistakes). I think I just got the runt of the litter, she was smaller, but very inquisitive and that shows a dog that is willing to learn. Thank you for opening up your life and your privacy to all of us on FB and your blog about you, Atticus and Will. It has really made a difference in my life. Kat, Heidi and Laci French from 'Bama

Judy Johnson said...

Darn you, Tom Ryan! You have made me cry more in the last six months than all of the other men in my life combined! But I love you for it. And Will. And Atti. :-)