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, October 19, 2015

Atticus and the Cold

Atticus on the summit of Mount Jackson with Washington in the background.
We are fortunate that we have a very active social media following, especially on our Following Atticus Facebook page. It’s humbling to see so many become invested in our story. I’m a huge fan of genuine interaction and I’m often inspired by some of the stories people post about their own journeys. It’s incredible how much I’ve learned about some lives and it is an honor to have things that matter shared with me.

Of course, my favorites are those who have read our book and know much of our story. They have a better understanding about us, as you might imagine. They realize more about the relationship I share with Atticus and what we have experienced throughout each of the four seasons on the mountain trails. 

Each year about this time, and I noticed it this weekend when a scant sprinkling of confectioner’s snow dusted our backyard, some worry about Atticus being cold. Some even get angry about it.

Again, reading the book helps, because much of it has to do with our winter hiking. 

I remember the first day Atticus arrived in my life. He was eight weeks old and after we returned home from the airport we headed straight out to Plum Island to spread some of Maxwell Garrison Gillis’s ashes. It was mid-May and unseasonably cold. A wind rode the waves onto shore and brooding clouds settled overhead spitting snow down on us. At only five pounds, and from the south, Atticus wasn’t ready for the cold and he shivered in my arms. I quickly tucked him in my coat and all he was instantly cozy. 

We started hiking when he was about two and a half years old. By the time he was three and a half we entered into the world of winter hiking, hitting forty-one of New Hampshire’s forty-eight four thousand foot peaks our first winter. He weighed twenty-one pounds then. In each of the next three seasons we hiked each of the forty-eight again and when winter returned, we set out to do two rounds of the forty-eight for the season. Ninety-six peaks in ninety days. It was a crazy way to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the name of our friend Vicki Pearson, who was taken from us by cancer.

By the time our second winter in the White Mountains came to a close, Atticus weighed in at twenty-seven pounds. Even with all that exercise he’d gained weight.

I switched him over to a raw diet and he quickly lost three pounds before leveling out. Then, inexplicably, he gained it right back even while continuing to eat healthy, and hiking at a frenetic pace.

The only way to explain it was that after two years in the winter Whites, Atticus’s body knew what it needed and it insulated itself.  It was evolution of a body right before our very eyes.  

Now let me be the first to say that I’m not an expert when it comes to dogs. Nor am I a scientist or a nutritionist. I can only speak to what I know. Mostly, we go about everything in our lives with common sense. If something seems right, we do it. If it doesn’t, we don’t. If something goes wrong or isn’t working, we change directions. 

So when it comes to the cold it’s as simple as this: Atticus has become a winter dog. He’s far more comfortable November through April than he is from June through August. He abhors the heat.

Two years ago, when Atticus went through chemotherapy, his weight hit thirty-two pounds. Now he’s back to twenty-seven, and while he has a body suit and numerous sets of Muttluk boots, he rarely needs them. But when he does, I put them on him.

I can assure those of you who worry about him getting cold, when the temperature drops or it is snowing, he’s most likely not like most of the dogs you’ve met. He thrives in cold temperatures.  Whereas Will was just the opposite toward the end of his life. He wore his fleece-line coat if the temperature dipped below sixty degrees. It just goes to prove what we already know, we are all different.

And here’s when the common sense part comes in. When Atticus is cold, he lets me know, and I have him in his fleece-lined body suit and boots within seconds.

So when you see Atticus in the months to come wearing only his birthday suit, please understand he’s not you. 

If there is something I’m proudest of with Atticus. He always has a choice. His opinions are taken into account. If you’ll remember from the book, he’s pulled the plug on a handful of hikes he didn’t feel up to and that was more than okay, it was respected.  His comfort is always important to me, as is the comfort of all friends.

This reminds me of a story from about seven years ago. It was toward the end of winter and a television magazine show wanted to feature the two of us. The time we set up to meet, Atticus and I were coming off a hike and the television crew would be waiting for us at the trailhead. While setting it up in advance, the host of the show, a very attractive woman, suggested that it would be best if Atticus had his body suit and boots on when we came off the trail because it would get more people's attention on television. I told her that would be fine if it was cold, but if it was a bit warm (relatively speaking for the season), he wouldn't be wearing them. She pushed the point and kept talking about how it would look great on tv. I told her that didn't matter to me. What did was Atti's comfort, and if it was above a certain temperature he would roast in his suit and boots. That didn't matter to her.

"Come on, Tom, it will be great television!"

"If you want great television, how about meeting us at the trailhead while wearing nothing but lingerie and four-once heels?"

For some odd reason, I never heard back from her and the show was never filmed.

This winter, as Atticus moves through his fourteenth year, he’ll let me know when he’s cold.  

Thank you for understanding and appreciating the differences in all of us. 


Anonymous said...

Hahaha! I'm wondering why you didn't hear back from the television host! :-)

Lynn Rymsza said...

Your remark to the tv lady made me laugh-good one!!!

arthurathilltop said...

I also have terriers, Border Terriers, and they prefer the cold winter weather. They have jackets and boots, but rarely need them. I am in a cold area of the White Mountains, and only on a bitter cold morning with light, dry snow, the cold is too much for their feet. They start to pant if they have jackets on, even in the winter. With Atticus's tight, wavy coat, he probably stays even warmer than my dogs.

Unknown said...

Nice one Tom!

Donna Jean said...

Laughing at your answer to the television host, that was classic Tom Ryan style for people who just don't get it. Reading the book is so important and I still get aggravated by the people on Following Atticus page who have not read it. Reading "Following Atticus" is a life changer for most everyone and for anyone to be on the FA page without reading it seems strange to me. I look forward to the next book about Will, but Following Atticus is always going to be one of my favorite books of all time. Thank you for sharing your life with us and your amazing story with this special mountain soul! Peace!

raddog said...

My Golden loved cold weather. We'd just come back from a very cold ( sub zero) 2 hour hike, I was "freezing" but Shi gave me the "why are we going in so soon" look. He wasn't bothered at all. Sometime I suspect people haven't read much about Atti & Tom, or did not read too deeply.

Elsa said...

I've had to learn not to project how I feel about the temperature onto my dogs. Slow learner here, but I finally get it! As for people lecturing and imposing their opinions where none is asked -- definitely the downside of social media. You've been very patient about it Tom. Your writings are the bright spot of my Facebook experience.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Thank you, Elsa. We're not that patient. Usually when others offer us unsolicited advice our moderators delete the comment, and sometimes the people. We understand it's part of social media, but it's not a part we choose to participate in.

Unknown said...

I just finished the book... I write book reviews for two newspapers in Colorado, The Summit Daily and The Vail Daily. I can't wait to share the book with the readers. Coloradans love their dogs, taking them everywhere, o I know there will be many people who will enjoy the book as much as I did. I am now a huge fan of your Little Buddha. Cheers.

Noblepa said...

Love the story. Never change for anyone or reason!!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree

Cara said...

We've heard it said that children wear sweaters when Mom gets chilly.You and Atticus communicate better than most humans can, and you trust your great little Friend. Love the story!

Anonymous said...

Tom I have your Book Kay sent me a copy I just love little Atticus. Your journey with him is amazing. I also think Will was special two.
You two have been very inspirational to me. I have two little dogs who are a good part of my journey now that my twin sister died! I am not able to comment on Atticus facebook. I am on Facebook. My name is Sylvia Seymour and I live in Australia now. My Dad lived in Massachusetts and we often hiked in New Hampshire. Keep safe and I hope little Atticus has a safe and warm winter!

Ann Grubbs said...

Great post, Tom. I can't believe how pushy some people can be! You were right to hold your ground with that reporter because the comfort of the ones we love is the most important thing. Great television? Please!

The Ladies of Beaglebratz Manor said...

Kim here - I love what you posted about. Since I don't have as many followers here or on social media as you do, I don't get much of the unsolicited advice as you. Occasionally when I ask for ideas or something of that nature then yes, I might get some and if it makes sense to me then I might incorporate it into my life with my dogs. However like you I do know my dogs the best and what will/will not work - especially since they both have been with me most of their lives (12 and 9 years) - they were each 8 weeks old when I got them. What bothers me the most and you may have gotten some of this too is the unsolicited comments from people in the here and now worls. For example, I was in a local pet store one day when a lady (not a clerk but another customer)walked by me and my dog and stated "That is a Basset!" I replied "No, she is a registered Beagle." She does have a bit longer back like the Basset but that is the only characteristic of a Basset - I was showing her at the time so she was very petite - her bone structure remains petite to this day altho a bit heavier but nowhere near like a Basset.
Anyway, I am glad I have caughtu p with you and Atticus again - I have been here on Blogger off and on for some time due to a medical condition and so glad to see that you and Atticus are still going strong. I was sorry to read of Will's passing - you did do a most marvelous thing when you took him in, in his older senior years - I bet he loved you for it.
I hope to read more here online in the coming years.

Ellen Snyder said...

Common sense -- if only more people had it. I marvel at--and I am quite jealous of--the fact that our dogs can go outside year-round, hot or cold, wearing the same clothes. We have to pile on layer upon layer if it is really cold. Kodi and Henna love the cold. Kodi is happiest frolicking in the snow and wind on one of the high peaks in winter, with no extra layers. Glad to hear that Atticus still loves his birthday suit best. He's got a lot of common sense.

Unknown said...

Hi Tom, I lost three dogs in the last couple of years but because we enjoyed outdoor exercise through the seasons here in CT they all lived nearly 15 years!! On a recent lonely but glorious morning jog, I found your book!! A homeowner left I box of books on the curb with a 'free' sign. I stopped, saw your friend's furry face and debated whether I wanted to carry a book as I finished my route. Best decision! So happy I found you and Atticus! ~GLB

Anonymous said...

I'm a fifteen year old high school student and my Nana is here from Newburyport. For the second time, she is reading Following Atticus and she decided to share the book with me. We are really enjoying the story and can't stop reading and laughing. We couldn't resist leaving a comment on here after learning your story! We are looking forward to continue following you and Atticus as we finish reading book. Thanks for being an inspiration, Maria and Beverly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I'm currently enjoying your book, after happening across it during a stay in Lincoln, NH last week! I walk the Lincoln woods trail to Franconia Falls almost every fall as a memorial to my late husband who died there. It's one of the most peaceful places, and I always look forward to the trek despite what occurred. We discovered the mountains about 12 years ago with our sweet yellow lab, Topaz. Tomorrow will be one year since I let her go, after struggling with recurrent cancer...very happy to hear that you and Atticus successfully overcame his health challenges! I know exactly what you mean about this October - for some reason I've had the same notion, that this particular year the magic of the season is more awe inspiring than usual, every time I go out :)
Thank you for your sharing,
Elaine in MA

Megan said...

Do your borders climb the Whites?? We just started hiking with our border and are wondering if we'll be able to do all 48 4000-footers!!

Maggie clarence said...

Perfect response :)
Maggie from mass

Unknown said...