Book review: How dog changed a man’s life

It seems that most books today are about vampires or dogs, so I was a bit skeptical about reading “F

It seems that most books today are about vampires or dogs, so I was a bit skeptical about reading “Following Atticus” by Tom Ryan.

The cover has a cute picture of a miniature schnauzer in muttluks standing on snow, but it took me only a few pages of reading to fall under the spell of this fascinating book.

The well-written memoir tells the story of an overweight newspaper writer and publisher who takes in a little puppy, names him Atticus M. Finch, and together they form a strong friendship. They eventually begin to climb mountains together and from there they attempt an extraordinary feat of trying to climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot White Mountain peaks twice in the 90 days of winter.

But the book is about so much more than just dogs and hiking. It’s mostly about love — love between a father and a son, love between a newspaper reporter and his community, and love between a human and a pet.

Ryan writes in the beginning how he had an unusual life and some would even say an exciting life. “I was the editor, publisher, and lone employee of my own newspaper. In it I chronicled the life and times of Newburyport, a small city on the North Shore of Massachusetts. I was poor but influential, happy but stressed, fulfilled in my work but not in my life.”

‘Following Atticus’

Author: Tom Ryan

Published by: William Morrow Publishing House, 288 pages

How much: $25.99

More info: – Ryan, with Atticus, will talk about his book at the Schenectady County Public Library, 99 Clinton St., on Saturday at 2 p.m. Call 388-4511 to register. The event is free.

– The Open Door Bookstore will conduct a book sale and signing after the program. The store will offer a 20 percent discount prior to the day of the program. Pre-orders can be made by calling 346-2719.

– Donations, including canned dog and cat food, will be taken at the program and given to the Animal Protective Foundation in Scotia. Click here for a list of acceptable items.

– The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mohawk-Hudson Chapter will have an information table at the program.

Missing ingredient

What was missing in his life was a companion. He was busy during the days going to meetings with town officials and interviewing local shop owners, but his nights were often lonely. He didn’t realize how lonely till he took on an older miniature schnauzer named Max. His first night with the dog he had to go to a party.

“I didn’t want to leave the little dog alone,” he writes, “so I enlisted the help of Doug and Barbara Cray. I was gone for only a couple of hours, but when I returned, I was greeted by a happy dog. Barbara told me that since I’d left, he hadn’t budged from the door. He sat waiting for me to return. It was as if he knew we belonged together.”

Unfortunately Tom’s life with Max wasn’t very long. After Max died, Tom immediately contacted a breeder and that’s when Atticus entered his life. From their first days together Tom and Atticus had a morning routine. They’d go out to Plum Island for a walk, then go to breakfast at Mad Martha’s in town, and after breakfast they’d walk around town and talk to people and often go to city hall to speak with city officials.

In the process of taking care of this new little puppy, Ryan writes, he was also beginning to take better care of himself. “It began in little ways. We took progressively longer walks, and that helped me lose weight. I lost even more when I followed the South Beach Diet, and the more I lost, the better I felt and the farther Atticus and I walked.”

Eventually the two begin climbing mountains, small ones at first and then gradually larger as they progressed. Atticus seemed perfectly at home climbing mountains. “Unlike other dogs, who run back and forth and do three times the mileage of their human companions,” writes Ryan, “Atticus walked purposefully, staying on the trail, and kept a slow but steady pace.”

Hiking the White Mountains also brings Ryan back to his childhood memories and in a strange way it brings him closer to his estranged and difficult father. The quest to climb all 48 of the high peaks in the winter becomes much more than a way to raise money for cancer research. “It was about us and what we shared and saw together and what we were becoming. It was one of those moments when you realize that this is truly the time of your life.”

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