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Following Atticus    by Tom Ryan order for
Following Atticus
by Tom Ryan
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

It seems there’s a vast audience for stories about how pets interact with their owners, which explains why Following Atticus has been so successful.

Newspaperman Tom Ryan was the owner and publisher of a small newspaper in Newburyport, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Not really into pets, Ryan found himself somewhat reluctantly agreeing to care for Max, an older miniature schnauzer, that needed a home.

'A dog meant commitment, and I didn't want commitment,' writes Ryan. 'My life was too crazy for a pet. I tried to think of ways to back out of it.'

Once Max moved into Ryan's house, it didn't take long before the two were inseparable. Unfortunately, the relationship didn't last long for Max began having seizures and soon had to be put down.

But, as Ryan explains, Maxwell Garrison Gills (Max) had opened a door, and Atticus Maxwell Finch came pounding through it! Atticus was the journalist's second miniature schnauzer, which the writer raised from puppyhood.

This book is not only the story of their remarkable bond but the feat that they accomplished together over a number of years. To pay tribute to a friend who had died of cancer, Atticus and Tom decided to begin an odyssey that would take them to the tops of 48 of New Hampshire's four thousand foot peaks.

Atticus was the perfect companion for Adams on his hikes in the White Mountains. It was as if the dog were made for the mountains. Adams explains, 'Unlike other dogs, who run back and forth and do three times the mileage of their human companions or go crashing into the woods on either side of the trial in search of wildlife, Atticus walked purposefully, staying on the trail, and kept a slow but steady pace. He seemed part mountain goat as he hopped from rock to rock with ease.'

Once they started on their mountain adventures, Ryan create a blog to record their trips and to raise money for a cancer institute. Soon Atticus had quite an Internet following.

More than just chronicling their numerous mountain ascents, this book also shows the transformation in Ryan's life that his new companion brought about. Thanks to Atticus, the author's private and family relationships appreciably improved.

At the book's conclusion he says, 'In telling the story of my friend Atticus M. Finch, I often think of that wonderful line from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: 'Perhaps love is the process of gently leading you back to yourself.' For that's what that little dog did. He led, I followed, and in the end I became the man I dreamed of being when I was a little boy.'

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Publisher's Weekly calls Tom Ryan's Following Atticus 'Entertaining and joyous ... Part adventure story, part memoir, but most important, a love story.' I can't agree more. But I would add that this story of a man and his dog is compassionate, inspiring and very touching.

Atticus, a miniature schnauzer, and his best friend Tom Ryan lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts where Ryan wrote and published a bi-weekly newspaper, The Undertoad. After losing his first schnauzer to old age, Tom knew he had to have another. That's when Atticus M. Finch came into his life, and Tom and Atticus started climbing the peaks in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

You must read the book for yourself to marvel at the bond between man and dog. Together they have climbed more than 450 four-thousand-foot peaks. Many times in weather conditions that would have thwarted others. The two became celebrities on the peaks as well as on flat ground. And are well known and welcomed, to the extent that Atticus is permitted to enter stores and restaurants that banish other canines.

It's a lovely story. Writing it helped Tom Ryan to understand his irascible father and, while they did not truly bond, they at least grew to understand each other better. Also, in reading of the wonders of nature that Ryan describes so eloquently, maybe, just maybe, you will take the time to notice and enjoy those around you.

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