I really enjoyed reading Following Atticus. Tom Ryan wrote a book about his relationship with his friend, Atticus. Atticus is a Miniature Schnauzer of "distinctive character and strong will and great spirit". Mr. Ryan never refers to Atticus as "his dog". He's his "friend". This subtle change in words shows the respect Tom has for Atticus. He is not a "possession".
Atticus changed every aspect of Mr. Ryan's life. He opened the door for Mr. Ryan to develop stronger friendships with people, have a less cynical view of the world and by following Atticus up the many peaks of the White Mountains- including the magnificent Presidential Range- he got in much better physical shape and became much healthier.
Together they hiked the White Mountains raising money for various charities including the Jimmy Fund and Angell Animal Medical Center. They were later inducted into the Massachsetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Hall of Fame for their efforts. While raising money they attempted to be the first person and dog to hike the forty eight 4,000 foot peaks twice during the winter months. The narrative describing the adventures of the two of them hiking these peaks in the cold of winter (often in the dark) is worth purchasing the book for. But my favorite subplot of Following Atticus wasn't the hiking, fund raising or even their relationship. It was the relationship between Mr. Ryan and his father.
When Mr. Ryan was 7 years old his mom died. He is the youngest of 8 children and had a distant and somewhat cold relationship with his father. During a summer when he and Atticus were hiking peaks in the White Mountains he became closer to his father because he was, "happy and didn't expect much of him". When Mr. Ryan was a child his dad would take his family on vacations to the White Mountains. Hiking with Atticus brought back many memories of these vacations and he recalled how relaxed and happy his father seemed on these vacations. A contrast to how he was at home. During this summer of hiking he gave his dad a wall map of the White Mountains and each time they climbed another peak he put a sticker on the map and when he would visit his father he felt proud when he looked up at the map and saw stickers over the 48 peaks.
Unfortunately, his relationship with his father continued to wane and they went through long periods of time of not speaking to one another. However, he continued to regularly write letters to his father to update him on his adventures with Atticus. He even published a letter to his father in almost every issue of the Newburyport, Massachusetts newspaper he founded, The Undertoad. No matter what happened between Mr. Ryan and his father these letters show that he never stopped loving his dad as he continued to give his dad the gift of sharing his life with him. While reading Following Atticus I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Ryan has another memoir in him to share about his family and his relationship with his dad.
Here is a video of Tom and Atticus: