Will’s Red Coat is, at first glance, a moving and beautiful true story of a dog on death row who chooses life against significant challenges, and the exquisitely compassionate and patient author, Tom Ryan, who brought him home, initially, to die with dignity.
Look deeper, however, and Ryan’s story is a powerful example of how, by embracing what animals have to teach us, a human can wake up to experience life with more joy, understanding and peace.
The spiritual awakening Ryan encounters doesn’t just show up at his door unannounced; it was something he had to earn. Ryan has clearly logged his share of solitary miles on the journey to Self, finding his way out of both the rat race and the human monkey mind so he could discover who he really was inside. (My apologies to both rats and monkeys for these references).
He has a deep respect for the sacredness of the natural world and is committed to treating his dogs and all animals as equals, seeking “what connects instead of what divides.” Withstanding countless sleepless nights tending to Will’s needs, Ryan endures his blood-drawing bites, seizures and incontinence with his own nervous system and compassion intact. Only an individual committed to self growth would so consciously choose to lead with his heart not his ego, “concentrating on giving and nothing else.”
Such is not the awareness of the average bear.
As for bears, Ryan believes his dogs Atticus (who calms wild animals) and Will are the energetic lure for a local wild bear to repeatedly hang out with the threesome, sharing in their enjoyment of White Mountain scenery. In contrast, the bear snarls, snaps and runs away when a nearby neighbor is even within earshot. Ryan doesn’t give himself enough credit; animals sense energy fields and if his own wasn’t as peaceful, loving and fully present as his dogs were, that bear wouldn’t have hung around with them for a minute.
Ryan should also give himself some props for meeting his canine companions where they rest: in the space of the heart. In humbly putting Will’s wellbeing before his own, wanting him to know love above all else, and seeing through the eyes of Will and Atticus, Ryan embraces these lessons of the animals’ heart:
- To be fully present in the present moment;
- To notice the beauty in the smallest details;
- To stop worrying;
- To love himself;
- To learn the art of patience and acceptance;
- That happiness comes when we stop striving;
- The best way to change the world is to change yourself and your perception of it.
Will’s Red Coat is a wonderful book. It is a journey of courage, love and the deep connection between humans and the animals who teach us so very much about ourselves and life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Ryan served as publisher and editor of the Newburyport, Massachusetts, newspaper The Undertoad for more than a decade. In 2007 he sold the newspaper and moved to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch. Over the last five years, Tom and Atticus have climbed more than 450 four-thousand-foot peaks.