Friday, November 23, 2012

Old Dog, New View

Since enjoying Tom Ryan’s Following Atticus—a memoir about identity and leading a meaningful life set against a background of Ryan hiking the White Mountains with his unique Schnauzer, Atticus—I’ve been following his blog. This May, Ryan got wind of a 15-year-old Schnauzer on Death Row.

The dog was left at a kill shelter by the very family who had cared for him all his life. The facts are a tad murky, but it seems that for some time they had been keeping the pooch in a crate all day for the sake of convenience, for the Schnauzer had become deaf and mostly blind. He was also extremely arthritic, making mobility a challenge, and the family had given up on him.

The Schnauzer’s health, not surprisingly, quickly declined at the shelter and euthanasia was looking like his only future. That is, until a Schnauzer rescue and Tom Ryan stepped into the picture.

Ryan believed the pooch deserved to be loved and to live in comfort. Judging from the dog’s health and age, he had only a couple of months left before reaching a natural end. Ryan wanted to give him dignity for those two months. So he adopted Will.

Will wasn’t an easy customer. He’d grown to distrust humans and bit Ryan repeatedly. But Ryan knew all about betrayal and distrust, knew relationships take time to develop; he didn’t hold it against Will.

Ryan did whatever he could to give comfort to Will: “Will likes to be tucked in and feel secure against the night. He likes flowers. He likes music playing near his head where he appears to get more out of the vibration than the actual sound. So we get him flowers, cover him at night, and play music for him. If all it takes to make someone feel loved is to give them a few simple pleasures in life, why not do it?”

What surprised Ryan was how much Will began to change, physically as well as emotionally. With proper medical treatment, his pain was managed, his mobility stabilized, and his personality started to emerge. Will wanted to live.

It’s now well past that two-month mark Ryan originally thought he was dealing with, and Will is a new dog. He nuzzles rather than bites, hangs out with Atticus, attends book signings with Ryan, and has even taken up mountain hiking (albeit in a stroller) with his new tribe. This month for the first time, he showed interest in sleeping with the humans in their bed. He’s proof positive that old doesn’t mean done, that a meaningful life may be achieved even at the geriatric stage of life, that love is always worthwhile.

November is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month. If you’re in the market for another critter or in a position to foster one, please consider an elder animal. They have so much left to give to those willing to recognize it.

Watch a video (second from the top left) of Will romping in the yard. If you want a “pawtographed” edition of Ryan’s book, here’s the info.

[Top photo of Tom and Atticus by Ken Stampfer; middle photo of Will and bottom photo of Will and Atticus by Tom Ryan.]

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