The special bond between a boy and his dog is one that’s been portrayed on television and in movies for decades. Whether it’s Timmy and Lassie, Travis and Old Yeller, Willie and Skip, or even the fairly recent Josh and Air Bud, these stories instantly capture our deepest sense of loyalty and love. And when it’s a true story, it’s all the more meaningful.
We first learned about Owen Howkins and his incredible dog, Haatchi, back in 2012 when the Daily Mail U.K. profiled the pair who were gaining a lot of attention on YouTube. Owen’s father and stepmother, Will and Colleen, brought Haatchi home after learning that he had been tied to a railway track and left for dead. Their intention was to rescue a lovable and deserving dog. The amazing friendship that ended up blossoming between the Anatolian Shepherd and their young son, who has Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, was a big bonus, and the two have been practically inseparable ever since they first met.
The sweet dog, whose back leg was amputated as a result of being tied to the train tracks, slipped on some ice and tore ligaments in his remaining back leg his first winter with them in early 2013. “He needed major surgery and long-term care. The vet advised that it might be better to put him to sleep,” Will remembers. “Instead, we raised the money and built him a cage and looked after him as he has looked after Owen.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Owen climbed into Haatchi’s cage every day for cuddles and support, to let his loyal dog know that he understood his pain and frustration. “It feels as if they were meant to be together and to help each other through their respective difficulties,” Will says.
In fact, since Haatchi came into Owen’s life, the schoolboy has progressed further than any of his classmates. His dad says it’s now estimated that Owen is a full year above his age group in terms of comprehension, and that he’s especially good at math.
The special relationship between Owen and Haatchi soon caught the attention of author and journalist Wendy Holden.
“I first came across them on Facebook and was deeply touched by the story,” she says. When Owen’s stepmom, Colleen, reached out to Wendy to ask about book potential, she had a children’s book in mind — one that could highlight disability and animal rescue. “But I knew that this was a book for all ages that would touch people’s hearts,” says Wendy, who went on to write Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog.
The New York Times bestseller brought even more deserving attention to this dynamic duo, who seem to have a language all their own as Owen whispers secrets in his companion’s ear from time to time.
“He is an old soul — wise beyond his years with a philosopher’s heart,” Wendy says about Haatchi. “He has eyes that seem to stare deep into you with a calm, reassuring presence that belies the great cruelty he suffered. His forgiveness of the human race is humbling and, although I have had dogs all my life, I can honestly say I have never met a dog quite like him.”
As for Owen, he has his own lighthearted way of talking about his gentle giant friend: “He can’t do tricks with just three legs, and he is useless at catching things.” And as Will lovingly describes him, “Haatchi is a useless guard dog and once slept while a mouse ran right past his nose.”
A sense of humor seems to come naturally to the Howkins family, even as they’ve managed the difficult terrain of Owen’s syndrome since he was just 18 months old. The rare health condition means that the 10-year-old boy has limited mobility and vision problems because his eyelids are tightening. At this point, he also needs oxygen to help him breathe at night, and he’s begun to develop stomach problems and muscle cramps. “He rarely complains, even though he is in constant pain,” his father says.
The relationship between Owen and Haatchi has only strengthened over time. “They depend on each other,” Will says. “Haatchi pines when Owen is at school or away. He sits moping by the window, looking out for him. He is Owen’s first thought when he comes home ,and they snuggle together all the time, Owen’s head resting on Haatchi’s huge furry one.”
As far as Owen’s day-to-day life right now, he keeps busy even when he’s not in school. His current obsessions include eating pizza, watching the Transformers movies, playing with Lego Marvel Superheroes on his PlayStation, and listening to music, including Metallica, Nickelback, Linkin Park, and Thirty Seconds to Mars.
“I learn all the words even though I can’t dance,” Owen says. “I am very good at arm wrestling because I have big muscles. I also love to draw. I love Formula One racing and was recently taken to Monte Carlo where I met my hero, Lewis Hamilton. I have also met Brian May from Queen.”
The Howkins family has also entered Haatchi in numerous dog shows and won numerous awards as a result. Owen has since retired from showing Haatchi, but he now judges dog shows and has given talks to a local university student group in the United Kingdom. They continue to take part in PupAid in London, which aims to publicize the dangers and horrible conditions of puppy mills.
Owen and his stepmom have also kept active completing various charity runs using an adapted wheelchair. “That’s when I go really fast!” Owen says. Their shared goal is to work up to doing a marathon in the near future.
Haatchi, meanwhile, completed therapy-dog training and has accompanied the family to fundraising events for Help for Heroes, an organization that helps wounded and sick veterans. “They loved the fact that, like them, having a missing limb hasn’t stopped him living a normal and fruitful life,” Will says.
Of course, Owen and Haatchi’s bond will likely only grow stronger as they meet and inspire more people while taking on new challenges as a team. But, perhaps most importantly, they’ll be there for one another. “He is my best friend and we look after each other all the time,” Owen says. “Like best friends should.”
To see more of Haatchi and Owen’s friendship, like their Facebook page.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).