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.