07/03/2012 01:47 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2012

A New Leash on Life: William Following Atticus

Poor William. His elderly owners could no longer care for him, so after 15 years as a beloved family member, this senior Miniature Schnauzer now found himself on death row in a noisy shelter. Things were looking very grim when, at the last moment, William received a reprieve. Burlington County Animal Alliance learned of William's plight and contacted New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue Network (NJSRN). NJSRN immediately rescued William despite his age and accompanying physical ailments. Thus began William's journey to a loving home where he could live out his remaining years with dignity.

It is not easy to find a home for an arthritic, partially blind and deaf 15-year-old dog. However, thanks to the wonders of social media, word quickly spread when NJSRN featured William on After being alerted to William's story, Tom Ryan, author of the book Following Atticus, posted the information on his own Facebook page. (Following Atticus is the remarkable story of the bond between Tom and his Miniature Schnauzer, Atticus M. Finch, friends and hiking companions in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.) Then something wonderful happened: NJSRN members were amazed to receive an adoption application for William... from Tom Ryan himself! William would get to live with Tom and Atticus. William's epic journey from South Jersey to the White Mountains of New Hampshire had begun.

After receiving a clean bill of health from the veterinarian (keeping in mind his age-related physical infirmities and frailties), William was transported by NJSRN member Ruxandra from his foster home to her own home. He spent the night surrounded by a loving family and several other Schnauzers. The next morning Ruxandra and her charge hit the road early and traveled to central New Jersey, where William spent the next leg of his journey with NJSRN members Dorian and Chuck. William was visibly disgruntled by being bounced around, and who could blame him? Here he was, a 15-year-old with eyes that could hardly see, ears that could barely hear, aging hips that often failed him, abandoned in a strange and scary world.

William was soon on the road again, this time to Connecticut for the next leg of his last and best journey. William was confused and cranky upon meeting yet another stranger, but Tom soon had him eating out of his hand -- literally! William sniffed Atticus in greeting and before long found himself in Tom's car, together with Atticus, heading for New Hampshire.

Once home, Tom blogged about William. As he wrote, it was an uneasy start:

There have been challenges thus far. Will is frail and needs to go to the bathroom quite often. If I'm not paying attention he goes on the floor but we've come to an understanding about that and I know when to get him outside and how often. He doesn't do well on the stairs and we live on the second floor and each step can be slick to his weakened back legs, but he doesn't like being picked up. So during the first day I just spent a lot of time sitting on the floor with Will. ... Atticus sat on the couch with his head resting on my shoulder as I worked my hands tenderly over Will.

William soon responded to Tom's healing touch:

Within twenty-four hours Will let me pick him up. Within 72 hours he understood he needs to be carried up the stairs and he now stops and puts his front paws on the first step and I pass my hand under his nose to let him know it's me and I softly cradle his brittle body. ... And when we get upstairs and I put him down he becomes playful. He dances around like a little drunken leprechaun ... Occasionally he'll find himself near the coffee table and when he wants my attention he'll pull himself up and put his weight on his front legs and stare at me as if he has something to say.

Slowly but surely, with Tom's compassion and patience and Atticus' quiet presence, William began to thrive. He started to act more like a puppy than a cantankerous old man. William was a lost soul, but with love, patience, and perseverance, he is now a happy, confident, and secure pup who seems to know he was given a second chance. And after all, that's exactly what we wanted for this sweet little old guy, now officially named William Lloyd Garrison: a happy ending.


A New Leash on Life: William Following Atticus

This story, like any Miniature Schnauzer rescue, was a team effort and authored by various members of the New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue Network. For additional information on the group (founded in 1998) and important breed characteristics, to determine if a Miniature Schnauzer may be a candidate to join your family, to see information on some of the available dogs, to submit an application, or to volunteer, visit Miniature Schnauzers are often referred to as "big dogs in small-dog bodies."

Visit Tom's blog at to follow William's story. William's namesake is William Lloyd Garrison, of Newburyport, R.I., where Tom had his own newspaper. Garrison was a prominent American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. He is best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

You can help an animal in need by adopting, fostering, volunteering, or donating. Find out how at