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, February 17, 2016

An Atticus Update


The signs are showing up more often.

Old age has delivered weaker hips and a weaker bladder. 

This morning, I heard that old familiar sound Will used to make when he urinated on the wood floors and then fell in it when his hips gave out. And then lay stuck in it. It was a heartbreaking wail.

Worse, today it was Atticus's cry.

I am not used to seeing him this way.

Already, I had placed yoga mats around our apartment, but he's found a few places between them where he gets stuck when his hips give way. And now the outside stairs are adding to the problem as well. He doesn't trust what he sees and has to walk side by side with me, watching my every step as we descend. But the further we go, the more his hips "frog leg" out.

Today, I realized, he now has to be carried down most steps.

This morning's pee in our apartment was a first for him; last week he urinated in a local store, which was also a first for him.

From the moment I met him, I realized Will needed help, so when he faltered, I was okay with it; I was right there for him.  With Atticus, as he turns fourteen within the month, I've noted all that's happening, but I've been taken by surprise nonetheless.  There's a new reality facing us, and the self-assured "Little Giant" who was always so at ease on these mountains that surround this region is no longer that way. Still, what a strong memory that is of him. 

One of the reasons I'm taken by surprise, by the way, he's diminished in ability and control is that to look at him; he is strong and hearty. He's solid. There was none of the attending frailty Will carried.

I write none of this looking for sympathy, or to whine about his condition, or to embrace sadness and what the signs point towards down the road. I write just to make note that the changes that are coming, and we must adapt to how we live.

Sometimes as we age, parts of us don't work as well. Some are better at accepting the necessary help, while others...well, with others, it can catch them by surprise just as it does us who are there to help them. After the first few weeks, Will was very good at accepting help and realizing he needed it. Atticus isn't at that point, and may or may not get to that point. After all, they are as different as you and me are.

His new "needs" are part of my friend's education. To a lesser extent, they are also part of mine.

As we have experienced the waning of what he once was, the most common phrase I hear from others, especially those who have lost a beloved four-legged friend recently is "Cherish every moment."

I know there is kindness in the offering of the words, but part of me struggles to shut my mouth when what I want to say is, "And makes you think there was there was ever a day that wasn't cherished?"

If you were out here during the two and a half years Will was, you'll realize that I don't fear death. Instead, I treat her as an old friend. Still, that doesn't mean there won't be sadness and tears and lots of prayers of gratitude. But more importantly to me, is to see that my friend lives as fully as possible until the day comes when it's time to say goodbye.


Still, all the bravery in the world doesn't make one's heart invincible to the way each reminder that time is passing tugs and tears at us and teaches us anew to be strong and to have faith.

35 comments:

Paula said...

Keeping the faith here Tom! Thinking of you both and looking forward to your adventure. All the best, Paula

Deb said...

Beautifully said

Angel Payton, Donald, and Daisy's Gampy said...

Two words that I think are the most profound in conceptualizing experiencing and assisting the aging process - bitter sweet.

Anonymous said...

Best wishes as your journey together through life continue. You and Atticus have warmed my heart for oh...so...long now.

Anonymous said...

Just for Today...

Stacey Perry said...

Im so sorry to hear about Atticus and his inabilities now that he is in his old age. I know how it feels, I have 2 older girls now that need me to help them all the time. I have followed your adventures and read your book as well. You both are in my daily prayers.

Carol Rehse said...

Amen.

David Laurence said...

Onward..always, and only onward. Love you both!

Angela from FL said...

Yes, every moment is cherished. Thank you, Tom...

Toni :O) said...

Such wonderful companions and such blessings in our lives. It definitely is bittersweet. Hugs to you both.

Paulilmer said...

Take care. Get what you need. Keep moving! We are 'with' you, as you are 'with' each of us.

Ann Wall said...


Remember you still have each other's great respect and love...

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

Dearest Tom and Atticus:

How I can relate to the realities you are confronting. Like you, I have a precious little boy (mini-schnauzer) and a dear friend we adopted in 2002. He will be 14 on April 11. We adopted him as a puppy, and now, we see him still stubborn, strong and independent while he attempts to go his own way. Occasionally, his left leg will give out, but he keeps moving on. We have other friends that love to go outside with him and play. When they come inside, Shakespeare rushes towards the bedroom - to be alone. It is so hard to watch our friends and their bodies weakening. All we can do is show the love we have. May God bless both of you. Sir Shakespeare Hemingway would like to say Hello!

AWBookGirl said...

I imagine it must be trying to have your own body betray you- not speaking for Atticus there, but imagining that point in time when I likely will not move as easily, or not trust my own eyes, or ability to safely maneuver a stair. I just hope that if and when I reach that point, I am surrounded by those I love, like you and Atticus support each other.

Unknown said...

Blessings to you both......you described my pomeranian Stuart at age 16 with the leg and bladder issues. Hope you have many more adventures together.....

Dusti Rhoades said...

I can't help but take pause at today's entry from you, Tom. We all continue our journey until the journey begins to write itself, and we lose the power of our own choice(s)... or, we are presented with fewer choices as fate takes over. I wanted to say how much I have enjoyed Atticus and Will's adventures, and we wouldn't have any of that without your willingness to share the stories with us, Tom. Thank you so very much for your talent, generosity and love for your special companions/friends who have loved you back, and provided you with a direction... and so very many adventures. We've all enjoyed your sharing. The positive I have to stretch for today, is, we can find permanence in the written adventures of Atticus and Will -- because of you, we have the priviledge to know them, too, ...because of you they live forever.

Marv said...

Your ending words mean a lot to me right now. While it's slightly different, not really in that family is family and our hearts do not differentiate between members. My mother is in hospice right now, every day she wakes up is a gift to me. While I remain strong in her presence, my heart is crushed daily. Only faith builds it back up to get through my days and the days ahead without her. Lovely, lovely Atticus - so stoic and proud; he couldn't have found a better friend in you, Tom. I wish you both patience, love and warmth in this new faithful journey together.

Lynni OHaver said...

A very wise man once said..... If your not living your life, then how can you be afraid of death? If you are living your life, then one should not be afraid to die.

Mary Ann said...

I'm glad Atticus has a loving companion to share this part of his life. This is just very hard. Thanks for sharing.

so sandy lou said...

I was lucky to meet both of you at the White Birch book store. Both of are blessed for having each other. Dogs are awesome creatures. They simply do not live long enough..Prayers to you both..Sandra Pembroke, MA

Unknown said...

What you just "commented" is as profound and beautiful as what Tom wrote. God bless you both and Atticus too.❤️

Anonymous said...

please use the pet tag... no drugs and it has helped so many to walk longer without pain.

Georgia said...

Keeping the faith with you both. Prayers for the adventures and memories you both can continue to make!

George G. said...

I share this journey and experience. Partly inspired by will, we took to adopting seniors around 14 -15, and they are with us too short a time. But we endeavor to make those years the best, and they respond with trust, love and affection. Our third and latest is blind - yet she adapted quickly to everything. Still there are signs that show her age and (as I get ready to turn 69) think about the road ahead being shorter than the one behind, and it creates a different but shared bond with my senior rescues. I like others have been on "Atticus' journey" since the book first came out. So for you, Atticus, me and our own seniors, it's "Onward by all means."

Liz Reilly and Finnigan said...

I just finished reading your book,which was fantastic, and give thanks to God for making you the man you are and the dog Atticus is.
You are both in my prayers as your journeys continue.

Reggie said...

Having been through this journey on many occasions I understand the ups, downs, heartbreak, and joy experienced every step of the way-I am thankful that Atticus has a best friend to help him! Thank you Tom for allowing us to share your lives

Susan L. Allan said...

I am toward the end of your book, a few chapters left to finish this wk-end. Truly remarkable both of you. I am ordering copies to give friends and relatives. I lost my boys (Spriner and Sheltie mix) in Dec. 2014 and June 2015. They were 15 and 17 and loved life and living in the Adirondacks. They were GA rescues. Their lives ended rather quickly and at the time unexpectedly. So as I know you do enjoy EVERY DAY. You are AMAZING Atticus! :)

Unknown said...

Amazing journeys you have both taken! Saw you on petopia and it was so touching! We have a miniature schnauzer too. Keep inspiring and pressing on!!

ruth Bernstein said...

I pop in and out of your posts periodically. The last time I heard you & Atticus were loading up your motor home and had plans to travel the roads and had planned destinations which required a more leisurely pace as opposed to mountain Trecks. It saddens me to hear you are in hospital and Atticus is being cared for by friends and is also affected by the 'ageism syndrome' . I do hope your treatment is successful and you will soon be reunited with Atticus for the remaining time that is afforded to you both. I wish you both health & happiness and send you love, light &'blessings 💜

mlaiuppa said...

I was curious as to why there was no word on the start of the April trip as we are now in the first week in April.

I don't do Facebook. I followed the link from here and now I know.

Get well soon both of you.

Am looking forward to Will's Red Coat.

Albireo said...

Just caring so much ... it's Monday, April 11, 2016. How are you (Tom Ryan) and Atticus (the pup) doing?

Sukiyaki said...

Blessings xxx

Peggy Spofford, New Mexico said...

I think of my grandson and the love of his life, Yukon, who is a 13 year old golden retriever. She was by him as he struggled through chemo and radiation therapy for an inoperable brain tumor. He loves this girl dearly but the time has come to say goodbye. This will happen on April 23rd. Just finished your book and loved every minute of it.

mama c said...

One of the reasons it's great to get pets for children, is that it teaches them about life. For us grown ups it is the same. There will come a day when we will need someone to look after us and hopefully it will be as loving as a soul as you. ( I'm just reading "following Atticus"

dcdashe said...

My journal entry from Friday.

Dear Tom,

Today is May 13th. Friday the 13th, but that never phases me. I got up this morning at 5 AM as I normally do, with my husband and our two buds, Max and Molly. We took them out for their morning constitutional, then fed them. My husband Steve made the morning coffee. He had his in an Atticus mug, and I had mine in my favorite mug about BFF's. I got dressed for school, and put on a bracelet cuff that has 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 engraved on it. I found the bracelet the day before, buried in a basket. Headed off to school at 6:45, and said my morning prayers on the drive in. It was a pretty decent day with my second graders, considering it was Friday the 13th, a full moon was expected, and for the most part they've been confined to the classroom for recess for the last week or so due to rain. By the time 3:15 pm rolled around I was ready to get home and head up to our place in the Poconos. My teacher outfit was quickly shed when I got home, and when I reached for a comfy shirt to wear for the car ride ahead it was my Atticus shirt. My husband picked me and the dogs up at 6, and we were on our way to our happy place. I've lovingly referred to our home up here as our "happy place" since the day we bought it and it has stuck. Happy place...my family and friends all refer to our little home in the Poconos as the "happy place." Your beautiful, funny, inspiring words about life in the woods helped lead me on the path to finding my happy place, and purchasing it. We arrived at 7 pm, unpacked, and I stretched out in my favorite spot...the recliner. I picked up my phone, checked Facebook, and there it was. The post from Christina. Atticus had run the race and he fought the good fight. He waited for you to come home before going Home.

I'm a woman of faith, and I certainly see the hand of God in each day. Today, He was reminding me of a beautiful relationship between two souls, built on friendship, love and trust. He reminded me through a well worn t-shirt, a coffee mug, and a heartbreaking post on Facebook that it's a beautiful thing to be able to touch the lives of people, whether you know them or not. It reaffirms my faith in humanity. Love never fails.

You sent kind words when my beloved, 13 year old, four legged best friend Abby left us in 2013. Her doctors surmised that a brain tumor was the cause of her seizures, as we could not afford the testing to confirm it. We had to make that heartbreaking, but humane decision. Your words gave me consolation and strength.

I'm going to sleep in my Atticus shirt tonight. I will remember how a friend of my husband told me about your book several years ago, and how I'd enjoy it. I'll remember buying it at Target and reading it in two days. I'll remember how much I enjoyed it, and how it led me to your Facebook page. I'll remember my daughter giving me s personalized, signed copy for Christmas 2014, reducing me to tears. And I'll remember how a beautiful friendship impacted and changed my life, and those of countless others. Thank you Tom, for sharing Atticus, Will, and your heart with the world. Onward.

With gratitude and love,
Dorothy Dashe