In her moving new book Haatchi & Little B, writer Wendy Holden tells the poignant story of Owen, a disabled little boy who strikes up a tight, loving friendship with a three-legged rescue dog. In the excerpt below, she describes the moment Owen (also known as Little B) and Haatchi meet, introduced by Owen's parents, Will and Colleen.
In spite of his injuries, Haatchi – who was still only five months old – was an exuberant puppy, even if one with only three legs. Up until that point, he’d been slipping and sliding all over the house and getting overexcited. The moment he stepped into Owen’s bedroom, decorated with Star Wars and Toy Story murals, all hand-painted by Will, his demeanour completely changed.
As soon as he saw the oxygen mask and the flow machine he sniffed the air repeatedly and almost tiptoed across to where Little B lay. Will and Colleen watched as he tilted his head, as if to say, ‘Hmmm, there’s something interesting here.’ It was if he knew this was a vulnerable little boy and that the machinery and tubes were a no-go area for him. Then he silently backed away.
The following morning, Will woke his son at 7 a.m. and sat on the edge of the bed as his little ‘sleep slug’ rubbed his eyes and yawned. Will told Owen they had a big surprise for him, and that made him wake up very quickly and become very excited. Then Will invited Colleen to bring Haatchi in. Owen’s mouth fell open as a dog three times his size lolloped over and, without any encouragement, placed his head calmly and quietly on Owen’s leg. They took one look at each other and each of them melted. It was love at first sight – for both of them.
Colleen said later that the whole atmosphere in the room changed in an instant. ‘It was utterly electric – a combination of pure love and acceptance. It is hard to describe the connection between the two of them. It was as if they were reconnecting – like old friends meeting each other again, rather than for the first time. I only wish I’d had a video camera to record the moment.’
What Will found so interesting was that neither boy nor dog backed away from each other or appeared to be in the least bit fazed. Both seemed to realize that there was something unusual about the other. Haatchi wasn’t perfect and he wasn’t normal, but Owen could see that, although he was so big, he was just getting on with being disabled and didn’t let it bother him. Will thought that really struck a chord.
Owen asked what had happened to Haatchi’s leg and tail. They didn’t want to lie, but it was a hard story both to tell and to hear. Little B cried as they explained as best they could, and all the while he carried on stroking the dog’s big head. Overcome with sadness, he asked why anyone would be so cruel. Will and Colleen told him they didn’t know, but assured him that the police would catch the person and tell them off. That made him feel a little better.
He got himself up and into his walker and wandered into the living room as Haatchi followed devotedly behind. The two of them curled up together on the sofa, where Owen stroked his new friend some more and began to whisper in his ear. The bond that was forged between them that morning is something that only they will ever understand. For the rest of that weekend boy and dog lay together – in bed, on the sofa or on the floor. Already they were inseparable, and Will and Colleen both knew that Haatchi was there to stay.
‘I felt really happy,’ Owen said later with a smile. ‘Everything changed in my life that day.’
Haatchi & Little B will hit shelves this week.
From Haatchi & Little B by Wendy Holden, on sale July 1, 2014, from Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.