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, January 05, 2014

"Never lose hope, my heart. Miracles dwell in the invisible." ~ Rumi

Oh, the places he's gone.
Will has a birthday coming up. 

He’ll be seventeen on January 14.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he already is, and we missed the anniversary of the exact date he was brought into this world. 

As most of you know, Atticus and I adopted Will in May of 2012.  I think the date was the sixth.  A brief history: Will was dropped at a kill shelter in NJ by folks who (reportedly) had grown too old to take care of themselves, never mind him.  A kind-hearted shelter person feared no one would take this special needs dog who was deaf and mostly blind, not to mention partly infirm, and reached out to New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue.  The posted on their Facebook page how heartbreaking Will(iam)’s story was.  Sue Muller Weber, long a proponent of rescue and a fan of Following Atticus, posted the update on her Facebook wall.  Laura Bachofner, a friend of Sue’s who is also a proponent of rescue and a fan of Following Atticus, then shared the update on the Following Atticus page.  From there, the most unlikely thing happened. 

Atticus and I were quite content in our lives. We were hiking, enjoying the lack of drama from our Newburyport newspapering days, and thriving in the quiet country life.  Yet something within me saw this old dog’s plight and decided that we would give him a home in which to die in.  I didn’t expect him to last very long; no one did, really, and so I accepted the fact that Atticus and I were taking on a hospice case.  All I wanted for Will was to be able to die with dignity and not the sense of betrayal and/or abandonment that I imagined he was feeling.  (There’s much more to this story, but I will go into with our next book.) 

Here it is January of 2014, and Will is as happy as he’s ever been.  Instead of dying, he decided to live, and that is fine with me. As I said to him from the moment he took his first faltered steps in redefining his life, “You can leave whenever you wish, but feel free to stay as long as you want.  You have a home here.” 

His journey has been remarkable, and his steps in re-defining himself will also be written about in the next book (along with many other things) so I will not go into them here. 

As for his birthday, no one knows exactly when it is.  All that was written down when he came to live with us was that he was fifteen.  Some who are hardcore into rescue wrote to tell me his birthday is the day Atticus and I took him into our home, for that’s what they always do.  No disrespect to them, or anyone else who practices this belief, but that doesn’t work for us. 

The way I see it, Will came into our lives that first week of May, 2012.  He had a long history before that, even if no one really knows what it entails.  Who was I to ignore that?  So I came up with a date at random, with no special meaning, and chose it as his birthday: January 14th. 

Okay, it really does have a special meaning for me.  It was my way of respecting that he had a life before us – this is something I’ve always tried to remember.  And I’ve done my best to respect his unique journey and how it differed from our or anyone else’s.  (This is the reason our moderators quietly delete comments about either Atticus or Will saying anything like, “I have/had a dog just like him.” 

I believe that journeys are unique, whether they are taken with two feet or four. 

But all of this is nothing more than details and details don’t always matter.  I really don’t care what date Will was born.  What I care is that he had a life, it seemed to come to an end, and he could have given up, but instead he chose to extend his last chapter to create several more.

As for Will’s celebrated birthdate, I know there are many who will want to send him something, but what I’d prefer is that perhaps you wear his shirt, drink out of his mug, remember the individual he is, and if that is not enough and you want to do something special, reach out to the animal shelter of your choosing and make a donation in Will’s name, or maybe even adopt a senior dog yourself.

Taking in a senior dog can be expensive.  It can be challenging.  It can wear you down.  But it can also reward you in priceless other ways, give you reason to celebrate as you clear each hurdle together, and it can renew an animal’s faith in humans, not to mention renewing yourself a bit. 

Thank you for caring about Will. 

Onward, by all means,


TheBookFetish said...

I don't know how old either of my animals are- I have a good estimate for each, but not an exact date. I have a date that I honor for their birthdays, because I am glad they were born and want to honor that. I know one had a much less traumatic life than the other before coming to live with me, but I don't really have history on either. I have never looked up what breeds they might be.

What I do know is that I am happy they are here with me. I'm happy when I come home and they come to greet me. I'm happy that they choose to sit with me while I read or work or any number of other things. I'm grateful for their companionship, their unique personalities, and that- I think- we enrich each others' lives.

Thanks for this post- and happy Birthday to Will!

Melanie Hernandez said...

Your blogs and post always make me cry. And I have my whole heart for every animal. But without have a schnauzer I don't think I would know how that always makes the stories touch my heart more. Happy birthday will :) melanie&scarlet

cindidejnozka said...

Just love me some Will!

Veda Curtis-MeyerCastens said...

Another awesome and heartwarming read. Thank you Tom for touching our hearts and souls and for sharing something so very special with us.

Renee Palumbo said...

What a lovely post - so many wonderful thoughts for us to keep in mind as people and about our animals. Happy Birthday will & much happiness going forward.

Jack Welsh said...

<3 I love what you wrote Tom. Wishing Will, Atticus and yourself all the best.

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

Happy Birthday sweet Will! Each day for you is a special and unique experience in celebrating life to its fullest as you share with all of us the wonders of aging with grace and dignity.
Tom, thank you and Atticus for the gracious hospitality that you extended Will back in May, 2012. It was a lifetime gift that Will definitely grasped with much gratitude, if not exactly shown in those early days of adjustment.
You are very correct Tom and fair in your statement that adopting a senior dog or any dog comes with challenges and expenses; but as you have seen, the benefits to your self being are priceless.
The dog or what ever animal one adopts and lovingly cares for and lets us share their lives with are a true gift!

Toni Soucie said...

Your unselfish decision to open your heart and home to Will in his old age, I am certain, has extended his life. It is clear he is a happy little guy and you, Atticus and Will are very fortunate to have found one another. I have a 16 year old Maltese who is quite ill and my husband and I have made the decision to put her down on Tuesday. It has been a grueling decision to make, but because we love her so much, we know this is the right thing to do now.

Chris Armendinger said...

Thanks, Tom, for the direction to animal shelters and your encouragement to adopt older dogs who so often are passed by in the "puppy quest". Looking forward to the next book, and of course, your next adventure with Atti up the mountains.

Kim Hampton said...

Happy birthday, happy every day sweet Will <3 I count my blessings that we have all had a chance to share a bit of life, to inspire, to love, and to grow old together. Love and blessings xoxo

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

Yesterday, January 4, 2014, we lost our special senior animal, a white Maltese with a crooked neck. She came into our lives after I discovered her on a pet rescue search. Her age - unknown. All that was known was she 'wandered up to an animal shelter.' No one wanted her, because she had a crooked neck. We adopted her in 2005, giving her lots of love, daily massages, and special attention. Slowly, she grew to love those massages, as she always loved us. Last year, she started having grand mal seizures. Because of her advanced age, and frailty, our vet told us to simply take her home and love her. And that, we did. We cradled her in our arms during her grand mal seizures. We prayed and I sang to her. Each time we said we would take her to the vet to 'let her go' the energizer bunny inside of her returned. It was obvious, she wanted to go when SHE was ready. That morning was yesterday morning, still a bit warm, but limp like a ragdoll, she passed over to Rainbow Bridge. Every time I read one of your blog posts, I so relate to you and the care you give your friends. Thank you for your inspiration and for teaching us all that if we move "Onward" we are better for it. Today, I cry for precious Shasta Daisy Shampagne. She was white, like a Shasta daisy, and she was bubbly like Champagne, so we chose that name, spelling Champagne with an "S" to keep her unique. If others would accept animals as friends, not little perfect animals, this world would be a much better place. I thank you, for inspiring me while I grieve. The ache is so hard, but I am a better person for loving and caring for our little precious friend! Thank you!!!

Gayle Gammage said...

My little scooter was10 when I adopted him. He had neglected to say the least. Three years later he starting really show his age and vet visits get closer together. He has brought so much joy to me and knows he is loved and safe. Thank you for suggesting adopting older dogs as they need love, too.

Cheryl said...

Whatever that unique quality is that you possess, it is no accident that you three were brought together so share space and time. Three journeys, individual, but together. WOW, such wonders have come from the union and onward they go. A birthday, a life continuing into a celebration of a mended heart ! IT feels wonderful to be part of this family, Tom. Th,ank you, as always, for sharing .

ingrid fluke said...

Tom, Thank you for the post,Happy birthday Will. Looking forward to the next Book. I love reading about you Atticus and Will. Have a great year.

Anonymous said...

Tom Thank you again ... Your insights are just what we all need ..Great to be a small part of it all Belly rubs for William ;-) Hugs for Atticus great to see him out there again too All the best on your next book project too .. Carter & Stacy

Maggie said...

I love the way you have so much respect and love for your pack and you are their leader.

Chris said...

Thank you, Tom. Once again, I'm in tears. Not tears of sadness, but tears of happiness for you and for Atticus and for Will. What a selfless man you are. Once again, thinking not only of Will on his upcoming birthday, but of all the other animals left behind in shelters. Thank you for reminding all of us that those four legged friends need our kindness. Peace to you, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I know what I will do for Will's birthday - something I have been thinking about. I will go to my local animal rescue shelter and ask how I can volunteer there. It is a rural shelter with possum, squirrels, and other types of animals. Happy Birthday to Will! I will help take care of other little furry ones in your honor. As usual, Tom, thank you so much for sharing your lives with us.

Anonymous said...

After reading about Will and his choice to live, we took in a blind Jack Russell. She was in the car on the way to the pound when I got the phone call. My neighbor decided she didn't want to be bothered to take care of her as she was going blind. I truly believe I would not have had the courage to take in this wonderful, loving dog if I had never heard of Tom, Atticus and Will and followed their story. Well done!!

Sue said...

Love the Will updates, Tom. Every time I see a picture of his inquisitive face peeking at you, I'm so thankful I shared his story on Facebook. Sharing bios and pictures of shelter animals on social media gets them into loving homes. Sharing works.

BJ PUP said...

All three of you are very fortunate to have each other. Will is just showing much hr loves you and showing you how worthwhile it was to adopt him.

i too gave BJ an approximate b-day - January 15th. We also celebrate his Gotcha Day - the day he came to live with me.

Happy Birthday, Will. And many more.

Pam Hicks said...

Happy Birthday, Will....from one Capricorn to another! And I do believe Will demonstrates several of the Capricorn qualities, so great choice for a birthday, Tom. As always, much love to Tom & Co.

mlaiuppa said...

An early congratulations to Will if I don't get a chance on his adopted natal day.

17 is quite the respectable age.

I've heard about people willing themselves to die and willing themselves to live.

I think Will made a decision to choose life and I think you and Atticus were instrumental in helping him make that decision. I feel sure had he been left at that shelter he would have willed himself to give up and not go on any longer. It was the care you gave him that allowed him to make a choice. You gave him a choice.

My Ramses will be 10 on February 23. I chose that date for him too. I hope he chooses to be with me until he is a little old man of 17 too. Hopefully longer.

Happy Birthday, Will! And many more.

Betty Fagen said...

Good Morning,

The power of love, the choices that are made, and the wonders of Will ...I was thinking about that as I dialed the local No Kill Pet Shelter phone number.

I spoke with the donation representative and found out all I needed to know about the organization. I made a donation in celebration of Will's upcoming birthday and then I made one in the memory of, in my opinion, the best buddy in the world ... Quincy.

As I gave my information, I felt the need to ask another question "Do you need a volunteer?"

I'll be going in this week to fill out the application, take the required class, and then get to work!

My heart isn't aching, but I must admit I am slightly teary. I am going to help other hearts hurt a little bit less even if it is just for a few hours per week.

I wish I could foster and ultimately adopt but rules are the rules in my apartment. Connecting will have to do for now.

Tom, Atticus, and Will thank you. From the moment I saw the cover of Following Atticus, from the opposite side of the bookstore, I am changed and grateful!

Wishes to Will, for continued love and whatever makes him happy, as he celebrates his 17th birthday.

Peace to all!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think that posts regarding your adoption of Will have made people more aware of the plight of senior animals and the unending need to provide homes for them. One responder to your posts suggested donations to animal facilities to honor Will's birthday. So - that's exactly what I'll do!

Shannon Zapf said...

Beautiful. Powerful. Love.

Ella Lindenhofen said...

Wonderful...Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Wishing Will the Happiest of Birthdays.

Chinese New Year starts on January 31..Some believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.

jodi lisa said...

I have made a donation in Will's honor today to the Nevins Farm Adoption Center (part of MSPCA Angell )
Happy Birthday!!!

Elayne Tiller said...

I so look forward to your next book!! Big loving hugs to Atticus and Will !!

Lynne said...

I love that photo. Had to steal it and make it my desktop photo on my Mac.

We are on our 2nd senior adoption (and she rules the roost over the other 4 dogs). They are even more rewarding in my opinion. You've certainly found that out with Will. To offer a safe and loving place to rediscover life is the most precious gift of all.

I eagerly await your next book. Following Atticus was so moving. Thanks for sharing not only your life experience but that of Atticus and Will too.

You rock, Tom!