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.

Monday, June 02, 2014

A Health Update on Atticus


Atticus climbing Chapel Rock on Pine Mountain last week.
I never worry about protecting Atticus in the wild.  Bears, moose, raccoons, porcupines, skunks, raging rivers, sheer cliffs, powerful winds, high heat, subzero temperatures, howling blizzards.  He’s handled all of these easily enough and knows himself well.  Nature is where he is most at home.  He’s a part of it and equal to it.  It’s where he belongs and it’s where he blossomed. 

Where I feel the need to protect him is in society, whether it’s in brick and mortar villages or on-line communities.  If you read our book, you know that I raised Atticus as an individual, to be “his own dog."  More importantly than his size or his breed has always been his right to be an individual.  I like that his journey has been a distinct one.  It’s also been a respected one, and not just by me, but by those who know him well. 

So you’ll excuse me if I am a bit vague when it comes to some things pertaining to him, because I do my best to keep him out of the all-encompassing boxes we tend to throw upon dogs.  In our little world, I never really noticed his breed or paid heed to it.  Instead, I’ve considered him an equal when it came to the peaks we have climbed over the last nine years.  With all we’ve been through together, he’s earned the right to be my equal.     

Recently, my hiking partner has been struggling and not only in the mountains.  On our regular twice daily one and a half mile walks around the Village of Jackson, he’s suddenly been lagging behind.  He’s always led; I’ve always followed.  It’s typical to see him twenty or thirty yards ahead of me, hugging the side of the road as oncoming drivers looked upon him with a curious eye.  But over the last six weeks, something’s happened. 

He starts out beside me, but after the first quarter of a mile he drops behind and I wait for him. 

Half way around the loop his tongue comes out and we stop and get a drink along the shores of the Wildcat River or at the counter of the Backcountry Bakery and Café. 

On the last third of our walk, his panting has been noticeable and while I never pretend to know much of what he’s thinking, it has been clear, as he trails behind me that something is terribly wrong as he looks up into my eyes with what I guess to be sadness.  After the walk, he often spends ten minutes panting heavily. 

This is a far cry from two months ago when we hiked to the top of North Moat and back.  It is a ten mile round trip with some darn steep sections. He handled it perfectly, always ahead, and looking back to check on me.  It was like all our old winter climbs.

The other morning we did Pine Mountain, which is more off a walk than a hike.  It’s four miles of easy going, other than one steep climb that we skirted.  The only time he pushed ahead of me was when we reached the viewpoints, which he knows by heart.  He’d trot ahead, his tongue would hang out, sit to look out over the landscape and when I caught up to him all I could look at what him.  My heart was pulled downward into a sea of sadness.  It looked as though the years had finally caught up with him.  So gray. So tired.    

Over the recent handful of days, the difference between who he was two months ago and who he had become is shocking.  He no longer trots forward to greet friends.  He seems to be a different dog.   

This led us to meet with Dr. Rachael Kleidon this morning at North Country Animal Hospital. She knows my hiking partner well and has worked with us for a few years now.  I had already filled her in on all that was happening when I sent her a text last week.  Chest x-rays showed his strong bones and that beautiful heart of his.  No signs of any major problem.  His heart is a bit bigger than when he was young because he’s had a lazy heart murmur for six years that Rebecca Malakoff, a cardiologist at Angell Animal Medical Center, keeps track of on a yearly basis.  Blood was drawn; an ultrasound performed.  We spoke of our options.


Rachael will call and confer with Rebecca today and we’ve got a plan to implement that has to do with a medication Rebecca’s been expecting to have to prescribe to Atticus sooner or later,  but was always surprised he hadn’t needed it yet.  Perhaps that’s the work of all those mountains.  Who knows? 

Traversing the curiosities of the human body is difficult enough for doctors, but non-human animals are all the more difficult because of the language barrier.  It can be a lot like putting together a puzzle, seeing which piece fits where and trying to figure out the mystery that lays behind the discomfort. 

Soon enough we’ll take a trip into Boston to see Rebecca Malakoff, but for right now we are in Rachael Kleidon’s caring hands and I feel pretty good about it.  Rachael tends to err on the side of caution and whenever we’ve worked with her it’s gone well.     

Rachael did point out that what is going on with Atticus has nothing to do with the chemotherapy he went through in the latter five months of 2013.  It’s a heart thing.  He’s growing older. 

Rachael feels confident that we will be able to figure out the problem and it won’t keep Atticus off his mountains if we fit together the puzzle in the right order.    

This was our first step in taking action against whatever is robbing Atticus of his breath and the pleasure he takes being in nature.  There will future steps, but today it feels good to have a plan of action and two good doctors looking after him.

For now, he gets to continue being Atticus M. Finch, and soon, we hope, he’ll be back to doing what he most enjoys. 


Looking at him sitting on the banks of the Ellis River and watching it pass by our backyard I smile at his peculiar spirit and I’m looking at a text that was just sent by a friend who has surrendered to nature as much as we have.  It reads, “How can we not love the lives we lead?”

Amen to that life, to the mysteries and challenges, peaks and valley.  Amen to it all.       

79 comments:

Rhonda Gelstein said...

A heart as big as Atticus' is bound to need a little help from time to time. He's lucky his friend Tom knows him well enough to see the signs that he needs help. True partnership and friendship. Onward Atticus.

lisa gear said...

Atticus' story is one I've been following for quite some time and I must commend you both for the unrelenting respect and love you have for one another. I pray that the medication will help and allow you both to continue to conquer both literal mountains and the mountains in your souls.

Cathleen said...

Thank you for the update on Atticus. It is good to know he is in such good hands. I'm praying for healing and restoration of health so that he can once again enjoy his journeys.

Lisa Brotherton-Barnes said...

I've been in love with Atti for quite some time. My thoughts and prayers are with him for God's great favor to renew his vigor and health.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

When I began reading your update, my heart beated with anticipation of what I might read, while remembering the issues I had with my best friend, Prince Marmaduke Shamus, over two years ago. Unfortunately, we lost our precious friend, and I am so -- ever so hopeful -- all will be well with Atticus M. Finch. Our animals are our best friends. They understand us more than any human ever could, just by looking at us, through their eyes and their heart. I wish Atticus, Tom, and Sweet Will the best while they journey through the issues of growing older. May God guide all of us, and may we, the friends who have grown to love Atticus so much keep the faith, as we journey ONWARD!

Terry Metayer said...

Thank you for the timely update. I have had Atticus in my thoughts all weekend. I love your two little guys and I love that you take care of them in the way that you do. I will keep you all in my prayers and hopefully Atticus will be moving onward and upward with you trailing behind him once again. Love to all. <3

Marrella Hale said...

Hoping the best possible outcome for the beloved Atticus.

Deb said...

So much love in that little heart and in all of ours for all of you. Your update is thoughtful and kind, we wish you peace, Tom, as you continue to care for Atticus and Will both. We pray for guidance and strength for the wonderful doctors who care for Atticus. We thank you for sharing your friend with the world, for he has become beloved by so many of us... God bless all of you.

Carter W Rae said...

Firstly Tom THANK YOU for sharing this with us !!! Atticus is in the hands of people that love him as we do!!! He is your very special friend and companion and to us part of the team Tom, William And Atticus
carry on bravely and with much love and thoughts from ALL OF US OUT here please (((HUGS)) to the furry guys great love and respect to you Carter & Stacy

Guyanne Harris said...

The spunk and spirit rolled into tha
t personality we all know as Atticus will move forward as always, be it a little slower, but with the same determination as when he left that poop message in your car to never leave him there. He will shine as always!

Jan Reed said...

I read your words and felt my body unclenching a bit. I was so fearful it was cancer-related. And while heart problems are by no means trivial, it sounds like you have a treatment plan coming into place. I hope that medication will restore his stamina, as it sounds like he is mystified and saddened by his present condition. I know he is in the best of hands both medically and personally, and that everything that can be done for him will be done for him. Atticus's body is getting older, but his spirit will always be bright and eternal. Sending my love and best wishes to all three of you.

Unknown said...

You are all in my heart as you were all weekend and the positive thoughts will continue. Thank you for the well written update.

Anonymous said...

As you always say, Tom, Atti, Will and you are all right where you are meant to be. Thank you for sharing the information that you have, and it's a perfect moment for each of us to reflect on the glorious changes in nature and respect the inevitable changes in our bodies, the vessels for our current lives' journeys. Sending positive thoughts.

Linda said...

You are doing all the right things for Atti - Bless your heart ! I hope he is hiking soon or at the very least walking around his own beautiful backyard like the distinguished older gentleman that he is. I will keep you both in my prayers !

Bonnie said...

As always thank you for the update on our friend Atticus. With your wonderful experts I'm sure Atticus will be on the mend quickly.

Robert Muhammad said...

Tom, as always thanks for sharing. Wishing the very best for Atticus.

Peace

Susan Dambrosio said...

"We get by with a little help from our friends!" The Beatles
Our sweet Attics is fortunate to have you for his best friend. It sounds like right now he needs a little help from his friends. ❤ xo

Janine said...

Best wishes to Atticus and his family. I hope medication and some rest will get him back on the fast track soon. Praying for a speedy recovery for your sweet boy.

Pam Adams said...

I didn't know what I would read when you posted the blog today. I was so afraid that the cancer had come back. Although I wish Mr. Atti could be health problem free the assurance you seem to feel in his doctors gives us the hope for a healthier future. Atticus has the heart of a lion and a spirit of a dove. I have come to love him and Will and will keep them both in my prayers as well as you too Tom.

Karen Kearns said...

My thoughts & prayers are with Atticus, as well as with you & Will. Love to all!

Judy said...

Thanks for the update. I've been thinking of you all week-end. Hopefully a heart drug will do the trick, and he'll be back to breathing easier. So glad it isn't the cancer. I'll continue to send all the positive thoughts my brain can muster!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the update on Atticus. The three of you have been on my mind all weekend. Atticus is a special little soul and brings so much joy to so many. I will keep positive thoughts that the medication will help him so that he can continue to go on those wonderful mountain hikes he enjoys with the one he loves the best.

joy heckendorf said...

Thinking positive thoughts for both of you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind update.
my heart also grieved while reading this, but
you are doing your best and that gives me hope...sending love and hope you guys^^♥♥

Heidi Haug said...

Thank you for this update, Tom. I have been sending thoughts and prayers for you all. I will continue to do that and send energy for you all to cope and get on the road to recovery. I hope Atticus will return to his strong hiking but even if he doesn't he will still take long walks with you and will always love you and let you love him. It is difficult but you are all in good hands. Thank you for sharing your lives with us. Love and hugs to you all.

Kerina Strevens said...

Love to you and Atticus (and Will). We all know love heals x x

Lynni OHaver said...

Thank you for the update on Atticus; you guys have been in my thoughts & prayers. Relieved to hear that Atticus doctor has a plan for him, I am sure he will be back to his old self soon. I cannot thank you enough for sharing Atticus & Will (& your) journey with all of us. Continued prayers & positive thoughts to Atticus, Will & you....

Cindi said...

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
- It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford

Donna Heichel said...

Thank you for updating us about Atticus. He has been in my thoughts all weekend. He is so loved by so many who follow his and your adventures. Oh how I love to see him looking at the view. I hope his heart takes him to more view I love seeing the adventures through Atti's even. Onward.

Ellen Mari said...

Prayers and good thoughts go out to you.

carolyn bonier said...

Atti, you and Will are held in so much love, it is hard not to believe that all will be well. Thank you so much for sharing Atti's (and yours and Will's) remarkable journey!

Carol said...

Thanking you for the update and praying for all good news moving forward with your dear partner!!! :)

Marty Crump said...

Thank you for the update. I am so glad you and Atticus are together, and that you have Dr. Rebecca on your side. HUGS to you both.

Marty Crump

Unknown said...

Much love to you three gentlemen, with an extra dose to Atticus. Life is an adventure and there are other good things to experience and explore, even if Atticus must take a break from hiking mountains. Onward!
Leslie A. Goller
Jacksonville, FL

Bruce Dostie said...

I can't tell you how many times I had to wipe my eyes to finish the read. I've never done much in terms of messaging you, except to "like" a post, but this time is different. I felt like I was on those walks with you, that's because I feel I've walked in those same steps. Those exact steps. I am 40yrs old with no "human" children lol. My animals are my children, especially my dog. I rarely worry about my own mortality but when it comes to her, it's a different story. I lost my 1st dog to lung cancer on 11/02/05 at 2:35pm. I'll never forget that day. It still hurts to think about. It always will, but that's a good thing in life. I may sound weird but to have that kind of sadness, I believe you have to have 100x that in happiness with your "furry children" lol. I may cry because I miss him but that's ok. I always find myself saying "remember when", it's those memories that turn those tears of sadness into stories of laughter. I could go on and on and on as I'm sure all of us could. To be honest, I think I'm rambling. Sorry. I really just wanted to reach out to you and say THANK YOU for sharing Atticus with the world. He's an amazing dog and although I've never met either of you, I choose to believe his "big" heart isn't an illness. It's who he is. A kind "big hearted furry child".

Louise Mazerov said...

Like all of us getting older, we sometimes need to adjust what we take and do but we keep moving! :) Just like you and Atticus, we forge ahead living the best life we can. Thank you for the update. Love to you both.

Anonymous said...

Only the best thoughts and prayers for you at this time. Love to you both.

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear that his wonderful doctors are on the case! (It will not stop me from saying a little prayer for him that he soon feels well enough to lead you onward again!) All good things wished for you all as always!

Cindy K said...

Like so many others.....my heart was skipping beats reading your update Tom! So thankful that the doctors are on top of this....and so hopeful that the med Rebecca has in her mind....will just do the trick and get you and your little guy back out and up to where you belong! Blessings and love to you all....

Angela from Florida said...

Thanks for the update. On my mind all day. Love and positive thoughts to Atticus, Will and Tom. <3

Michelle Gray said...

So glad to hear that Atti is in the best possible care. I am sending lots of prayers, healing energy and supportive love to dear Atticus. And sending loving energy to the entire Ryan Pack, and their friends and caregivers.

Maxine Callies said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Through your book and posts, I feel like part of the family too. All your family shares the love and concern. I can vouch for the fact that age creeps up on us and we are faced with adjustments to make so that we can move on to the next mountains placed before us...enjoying the climb even if it turns out to be a hill, there is still a peak waiting. Blessings to you, Atticus, and Will.

Robert Winslow said...

Tom, We appreciate the updates, but time spent with Atticus and Will and close friends and Nature and yourself are more important - especially during challenging times. Sending heartfelt respect and regards.

Budala56 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kasmom said...

Thank you for sharing...Atticus has been in my thoughts these past days. I am so glad you have doctors who you know and trust. Sending good energy for his improvement!

Betty and Lenny said...

Dear Friend,

I recently saw the three H's on a movie trailer and I would like to share them with you.

Hurt
Hope
Heal

I pray that the hurt part, that has been watched, will be controlled and/or repaired by Atticus' incredibly smart, gifted, and respectful doctors.

There is always hope and I try to always look up.

Sending positive thoughts that the puzzle pieces will fit together very soon. That Atticus will heal and grow strong and return to the place where he belongs.

Feel the hugs from here to there.

Onward, by all means, and peace.

SILVIA SOOS-KAZEL said...

Thank you Mr. Ryan for your kind update on sweet Atticus. The sharing of your hiking partner and friend with the world is most considerate. Along with the magnitude of well wishers, I too send prayers and positive energy that Atticus will successfully overcome this setback. Atticus has the determination to live his life to fullest~onward by all means.

Janet Taylor said...

I love the stories of the dynamic duo who roam the woods with so much love of the land. Many time I have
shed a tear reading your wonderful "tails". So dear Atti, Tom and Will have become my family and your trips my trips - sharing each wonderful, inspiring post. Dear Atti I am praying for good health and many many more years of happy hikes and inspiring stories. God bless you Atti, Will and Tom.

Christina Traven said...

My positive thoughts and prayers are with you and Atticus. I've so enjoyed following your story these past few years and appreciate your kindly sharing what's going on with Atticus.

Janine said...

Like Jan Reed, I let out a sigh of relief when I read your blog. I have been following you since the day your book came out and your posts are one of the reasons I keep my Facebook account. Atticus has great doctors and a great friend in you, Tom, that I know this will work out. I have been sitting here in the hospital with my 93 year old father since 6:15 am this morning with pains in his upper chest. Yesterday, my father-in-law, also 93, passed away. It gives you time to think and appreciate all the grand moments you share with your loved ones. Tom and Atti, here is to many more shared moments.

dcdashe said...

It is a beautiful life you three lead. So wonderful that you not only know it and are grateful for it, but that you share it with us. And for that, I am deeply grateful. Keep on keeping on!

Jack Welsh said...

<3
130

Terie Christmas Davis said...

Praying God's grace and mercy cover you both as you walk this new road together. I, like other here, was thinking about you both all week-end hoping for some good news. I pray this will all be behind you soon and you can continue to have your spiritual outings together. I love reading every one of them.

KMS said...

Go Atticus go!!!! Best wishes mighty one to a speedy recovery love and well wishes (and prayers)!!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful sentiment Cindi

David Fournier said...

God bless and be well!

Tracey said...

Thank you Tom for allowing us into your and Atticus' personal space. Over the time I have been following you, Atticus and Will, I have grown very fond your trio. I'm always happy to read how nicely your lives are going along. However, on occasion I find myself concerned with their health. Needless to say, I'm so grateful to read this blog today and look forward to further updates. You're a good friend Tom. Atticus and Will are lucky to have you.

Dianne Trivers said...

05751
Thank you for keeping your fans updated. I've followed your beautiful writings since "Following Atticus" was 1st published, and have enjoyed learning about your life with your dogs. Always poignant, I was dreading reading today's post, but am relieved and have tears in my eyes and hope in my heart that you and Atticus will climb many more beautiful mountains.

Trish said...

bless you Atticus, you have the heart of a lion. You meet life as you want to and Tom has helped you maximize it. Although it saddens me as a big fan of yours, I know that the cycle of life will eventually catch up with you, but I've no doubt you'll meet it with eyes wide open and enjoyment of all that the beautiful mountains you've enjoyed all these years have given you and Tom. Love to you both

Anonymous said...

My own little buddy and I will do what we always do when we hear of tough times for you or Atticus: we find a summit, turn towards Jackson, and salute your indomitable spirits. I wish we were potent enough to help you, but I know it does our souls good. Hang in there; we're rooting for you.

John

Kady said...

Thank you for your update Tom. I imagine it was difficult to compose but as always, you shared it with grace and dignity. Wishing you and Atticus continued joy and love on your journey. We don't really know what's around the corner for any of us or our companions but living in the NOW is the best and only thing we can do to cherish our times together. Positive thoughts....

Nancy G said...

I could not wait to get home to my computer in hopes of news of Atticus. Your words, although cautious, are more on the positive. Ruling out issues, one at a time, will surely lead to a path which we all hope will help Atticus. It is so good you live "within the forest", so Atticus and you Tom, just step outside your door and take it all in! All the best to you, and Onward for sure! <3

Ursula R said...

Your words are filled with sadness, but also with hope. Thinking of you and praying that Atticus will be well soon. Thank you for the update.

Carla said...

I am so glad that Atticus and Will have wonderful people to look after their health. It's hard to watch our furry, four legged friends getting older. I have 15 year old & 13 1/2 year old dogs. I love them dearly. I am spending as much time with them, as possible. I am happy if they live long, happy lives being part of the family. They make life so much better! I love reading about Atticus & Will! Thank you for the update!

Louis Crowley said...

Hello guys,
I remember the first day we met and we spoke of our friends since Atti was the same age as my 2 (9 at the time) and I'll never forget that you said (huge paraphrase here) "As they get older doesn't it scare you every morning until you see them happy as every to see you?" Yep. Each day is a blessing and like us not every day is bouncing about but you're together and the friendship is best thing anyone could ever ask for. Heck, Atii used to wait for you all the time when you started hiking and you had a few more pounds on you and not in the shape you're in now!! ;) Time for you to lead for a bit and be the great friend you are! Best wishes to you all and thanks to your great Drs. They sound fantastic.

"Kirby" (KrB) said...

So glad for the update. We were close to you last week, in Lincoln, hiking those beautiful mountains we learned about thanks to Atticus, and praying for him as well. Today we are back in Florida (sigh) and still praying for him for restored health and many more hikes.

Anonymous said...

Even a heart of gold needs some loving care on occasion.
Sending white light towards healing thoughts.

Bridget Stubblefield said...

Tom, Atticus, and Will,
You have touched so many lives in a positive way. Thank you for allowing us to share in your journey. Tom, I love your wonderful words. My husband and I enjoy reading your posts each day. They help us to think about things we wouldn't normally think about although we should. You help us to remember what is really important. The things we have been burdened by for so long are not the important things. By following your journey, we fell in love with the three of you. We keep you in our prayers and send love and healing thoughts to Atticus and Will. Jasmine and Erin are our animal friends. They send their love too.
Love,
Bridget, Bob, Jasmine, and Erin ❤️

janimac said...

Sending prayers and love to Atticus! Thanks for taking such good care of him, and Will. God bless you, Tom!

Jessica Logan said...

Good Luck. Given how I and many others feel about Atticus and Will just from your writings, it must be hard for you to experience it firsthand. I've seen similar changes in my dog Bella and it's hard to see her go from an easy and quick jump onto the bed to needing help. For her , it's her eyes and she's being seen at Angell too. How wonderful that we have great local vets and an outstanding set of specialists at Angell too or Tufts nearby. Hope that knowing so many care about you, about Atticus, about Will helps a tiny bit.

Martin Politte said...

Thank you for your update Tom.

Wishing you and Atticus continued joy and love on your journey.

I love reading your post on Atticus and will. They give me so much joy.

Laura Bear said...

I'm new to your blog, but appreciate your commitment to nature and Atticus. I hope he recovers well and can hike with you soon.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for keeping us posted on how Atticus is doing.... and about Will's health too. It sounds like you have a couple of awesome doctors checking him out. I am sure everything will be ok and the two of you will be hiking again in no time.

Sending lots of positive thoughts your way.

Dusti Rhoades said...

Blessings to Atticus and the whole FA Team/Family. You've all shared so much with us, I am glad to know that you are being given back some gifts that may be of help to you. Thank you for sharing Atticus & Will's amazing stories. I hope the three of you can feel the love coming your way especially now.

Yvonne said...

So onward you go little man, you are in good hands and I look forward to your next adventure. Face to the wind Atti, you are loved so much.

Steven Plavny said...

Praying that all is well... and it's just old age. That can be treatable with love, care, patience and understanding. Also, that Atticus can continue to enjoy his hikes with you for the foreseeable future. God bless you both!

Cathy Boucher said...

It's great to hear that there is a plan, soon I believe you both will be back to your routine. Onward by all means!
I so enjoy all the updates and am keeping you in my thoughts.
Cathy

Carole Jurack said...

I have been reading your blog faithfully for 2 years and you should know that Atti may live with you and Will but he is also a dear friend to everyone who reads your wonderful tales. I wish him well and hope you are
able to enjoy many more walks in the very near future!

Carole Jurack

Murphy Bourret said...

Our hearts sank for you and Atticus when we read your report. "Heartfelt" is not just a word. The sinking and tightening was felt by both my husband and me at your news.