Will to Live

The Fate of a Little Dog Transformed by Nature, Love, and Friendship

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Sometimes the richest lessons in life are the most unexpected.

In New Hampshire lives a man named Tom Ryan, who once shared an extraordinary spiritual connection with his dog Atticus. You may have heard of him, he recounted the story of how just the two of them conquered hundreds of miles up and down the peaks of the White Mountains in his best-selling book, Following Atticus. But that’s another story.

Ryan’s latest autobiographical tale ends before it begins. On a rainy day in April, the little red dog coat hanging on his office wall reminds Ryan of the senior dog who has since passed, and a promise he made to him. Back up several years earlier, when Ryan makes the impetuous decision to open his home to rescue a very sick 15-year-old Miniature Schnauzer named Will from a kill shelter. Ryan figures he can at least give him a peaceful and loving home—a sort of hospice—as he desperately needs a place to die with dignity.

Will is deaf, near-blind, and he has physically disabilities so he struggles to walk. But he also struggles with his heart and his soul. At first, he displays a broken, frightened, and aggressive nature and just wants to be left alone. He remains curled up in a ball, sleeps all day, and generally ignores Ryan and Atticus. Because of his mobility issues, he is prone to getting stuck in crevices in the house during the middle of the night. When Ryan tries to help, Will thrashes wildly, biting and attacking him. Ryan begins to wonder if he had made the right decision in bringing Will home.

And then, Will’s life takes a surprising turn. Ryan goes to great lengths to share New England’s natural wonders with his elderly companion. Since Will’s health won’t allow him to join on long hikes, on one November day, Ryan pulls Will in a wagon along one of his favorite mountain trails. At its summit, he lifts the dog from his wagon to show him the views across the valley. He writes in the book, “The forest had helped me, and I thought it would help another lost soul as well.” It’s at this moment that Ryan feels all the tension in Will’s
body release with a sigh. From then on, Will had lost all of his rage.

On another occasion, the author introduces Will to the salty air of a desolate beach in
Provincetown, Massachusetts. For a few days in the early winter months, Will freely digs his heels in the sand. When he dared to enter the frigid waters, Ryan scoop him up with a towel to dry off his sensitive skin. Then there are the moments when he is entranced by the bright sunrise in the mornings and the full moon late one evening. Will achieves another milestone during this trip—he goes without a leash for all the days that followed.

Over time, with Ryan’s patience and small acts of kindness from friends along the way, Will transforms and he blooms—quite literally. The fresh air and ever-changing colors of the surrounding forests awaken Will’s spirit, where he discovers his love for the scents and bright colors of wildflowers. Ryan nurtures Will’s newfound appreciation by planting a garden in his yard. On lazy summer days, Will wanders through the garden and rests his body among his favorite flower beds. Because the author wrote about his experiences with Will online through his blog, fans across the country began flooding the local florist with orders for wildflowers for the aging dog.

As Ryan writes, “What was to be a brief two- or three-month stay grew into two and a half years of wonder. When the time finally came to say goodbye to Will, I was surprised by how right it all felt. Instead of grief, I had nothing but reverence for a friend, who in the end, got it right.”