It wasn’t until little Owen Howkins was 18 months old that his parents noticed something strange about how he was developing. He was struggling to crawl, for instance, and they thought that he might be autistic. The truth, however, would change their lives forever.
Owen was born in 2006, and he was the son of Will and Kim Howkins from Hampshire, U.K. For the first few months of his young life, he seemed like any other baby.
But as he started to grow, his parents, both serving in the U.K.’s Royal Air Force, started to notice changes. Concerned, they took him to hospital for tests, and the prognosis would not be good.
Specialists at Southampton General Hospital in Hampshire diagnosed Owen with Schwartz-Jampel Syndrome. The painful condition causes muscles to become permanently tense and can hamper the normal development of bones. That muscle tension can cause breathing difficulties too.
The genetic condition is incredibly rare; it’s thought that globally, only around 25 people suffer from it, and Owen’s was the first ever case to be diagnosed in the U.K. Needless to say, then, things weren’t going to be easy for the youngster.
And as he got older, Owen’s condition really started to take its toll on him. He became a very anxious child and led a pretty lonely existence, finding it hard to make friends and integrate.
It must have been a difficult time all round for the Howkins family, and no doubt led in 2009 to Will and Kim getting divorced. But this was, inadvertently, going to pave the way for a fresh start for them all.
This was because Will had taken on primary custody of Owen, and eventually, thanks to the help of a dating site, the single father met New Zealander Colleen Drummond. The couple soon fell in love.
Dog trainer Colleen first met little Owen on his fourth birthday. The first thing she said to him was, “Happy birthday, little buddy,” and from then on Little B would become his pet name. But she was going to have a much more profound effect on his life than that.
And it could not have come at a better time for Owen. In fact, by the time he got to school age, Owen had become even more withdrawn and shy. He hated being in public, for example, and he relied on his oxygen mask to help him breathe at night.
And then Colleen found Haatchi. She came across the enormous Anatolian shepherd dog on a website and, after going to see him, decided he would be the perfect, loyal rescue dog to join the family home.
Haatchi, who was named after a famous Japanese dog, didn’t have a great start in life either. As a puppy, he had been cruelly beaten by his owner and then dumped on an East London train line.
Horrifically, the dog was hit by a train. The collision badly damaged his tail and rear-left leg, both of which had to be amputated by doctors. But the strong Haatchi was a true survivor.
For Owen and Haatchi, then, it was love at first sight. The moment they met, Haatchi walked over to Owen and laid his head on the young boy’s lap. For the rest of the weekend, they just lay together and hugged.
According to Wendy Holden’s book Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog, which was written about the unusual friendship, Owen stated that on that day, “Everything changed in my life.” It was as if the pair had a secret relationship that only they could understand; they needed each other.
The wonder dog was even helping the youngster with his medication. Indeed, when Owen saw Haatchi taking his pills in order to help with complications after the amputation, the young boy started doing the same with his medication without complaint.
Eventually, the relationship began to tease Owen out of his shell. His work in class was beginning to get much better, and he even spoke in class, announcing that one day he would walk again, with the help of his dog.
In February 2014, 18 months after Owen and Haatchi first met, the promotional video for Holden’s book was released – and promptly went viral. As of June 2016, the video had garnered more than four million hits on YouTube.
By the end of that year, Owen and Haatchi had won an award at the world-famous dog show Crufts, and he took home the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Dog of the Year title. They’d also appeared on various British TV shows.
The icing on the cake, though, must have come when Colleen and Will eventually got married. And who were best men at the wedding? That’s a no-brainer – Owen and Haatchi, of course.