GLOVERSVILLE - Atticus M. Finch had a hero's welcome on Saturday, when he appeared at SkyHeart Place with Tom Ryan, author of the book that has made the miniature schnauzer a minor literary celebrity.
Atticus - named after the protagonist of "To Kill a Mockingbird" - seemed to take the attention in stride, resting peacefully on stage as Ryan addressed a crowd of nearly 200 people as part of the Gloversville READS! program.
Cutting a casual figure in his hiking clothes, Ryan told the stories behind the stories from "Following Atticus," his book about how his relationships with his dogs changed his life.
Writer Tom Ryan holds his dog Atticus M. Finch during their appearance Saturday at SkyHeart Place in Gloversville. Ryan’s book, “Following Atticus,” is this year’s Gloversville READS!?community reading program selection. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Ryan said for 11 years, he published a small newspaper devoted to shining light on local-government corruption in Newburyport, Mass. His first dog, another miniature schnauzer named Max, helped change his attitude and lift his spirits. When Max died, Ryan said, he cried like a baby, and the whole town seemed to mourn the popular pooch along with him.
"Animals have a way of reaching out to us in a non-verbal way," he said. "It's communication that's very pure. ... It gets you to your core."
After he lost Max, Ryan went in search of a dog like him and eventually found Atticus.
After losing a friend to cancer, Ryan said, he and Atticus developed a mutual passion for hiking. In 11 weeks, they hiked all 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire's White Mountains, and they turned their adventures into a way to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in honor of a friend who had died of cancer.
Ryan said Atticus seems happiest in the mountains, and when they reach a summit, the dog likes to sit and stare off into the distance like a "little Buddha."
"Our book is not about mountains - like 'Moby-Dick' isn't really about a whale," Ryan said. "It's not about dogs, it's about friendship, and transformation and what love can do for people."
Ryan and Atticus were joined Saturday by Will, whom they adopted a year ago, rescuing him from a shelter in New Jersey that was preparing to put him down. Then 15 years old, Will was elderly, arthritic, deaf and nearly blind, Ryan said, but after adjusting to his new home and his new companions, the dog seems to have a new lease on life.
While Ryan spoke and Atticus relaxed on stage, Will wandered among the members of the audience, drawing the attention of some of the young people in attendance.
Ryan said he treats his dogs like he would like to be treated: Love and the freedom to roam without a leash are essential.
"By treating [them] better, I became a better person myself," he said.
Gloversville Public Library Director Barbara Madonna said this year's Gloversville READS! program was put together by a subcommittee of library's Program Committee, with several volunteers from the community.
"It was a lot of work, but we had so many hands helping that it really wasn't a heavy load," she said. "Everybody came to the program with a lot of ideas."
She described Saturday's event as "a clear winner" and said while it was the highlight of the program, Gloversville READS! isn't over yet.
"After today, I hope more people will check out the book, keep reading, keep talking about it, keep finding their own way to get involved in the READ," Madonna said. Two more events associated with "Following Atticus" are planned this month:
- At 10 a.m. April 27, a "Tails to Rails" dog walk will take place, starting at Trail Station Park on West Fulton Street in Gloversville. The event will be sponsored by the Fulton County Public Health Department and HealthLink Littauer.
- At 6 p.m. April 30, a Blessing of Dogs event will take place at the library, with the Rev. Linda Martin, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Broadalbin.
For more details about these events, see the library's website, www.gloversvillelibrary.org.
For more information about Ryan, his dogs and their hiking trips, see his blog at tomandatticus.blogspot.com.
Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.