Three-legged dog helps boy cope with rare condition

Owen Howkins suffers from Schwartz-Jampel Syndrome, which leaves his muscles permanently flexed and forces him to use a wheelchair; once shy and withdrawn, the boy’s outlook has completely changed — thanks to three-legged Haatchi. (Photo credit: Haatchi’s Facebook page)

When Owen Howkins was only two years old, the little boy was diagnosed with Schwartz-Jampel Syndrome, a rare condition that causes muscle abnormalities, putting them in a constant contraction. There’s no medication available that can loosen Owen’s tense muscles, and he needs a wheelchair to get around.

Growing up, Owen knew he was different than other boys and girls, and he became frightened, withdrawn, and too scared to talk to strangers. He even feared leaving his Basingstoke home in Hampshire, England.

But when Owen’s father and stepmother adopted Anatolian Shepherd Dog Haatchi, everything changed.

“I looked into his eyes and I felt like me and Haatchi were going to be best friends forever,” Owen, now 8-years-old, tells ITV News.

Perhaps it’s because Owen and Haatchi are somewhat kindred spirits.

You see, Haatchi had a rough start in life, too. When Haatchi was just a pup, someone tied him to the railroad tracks and the Shepherd was struck by a train. Luckily Haatchi managed to survive the impact, but he wasn’t discovered until days later. By then, veterinarians had no choice but to amputate his badly mangled hind leg and most of his tail.

Haatchi initially struggled to find a new home, but when Owen’s stepmother Colleen Drummond heard the young dog’s story, she knew he’d make the perfect addition to their family.

“I used to be scared of strangers,” Owen says, “and I used to put [my head down] like that before Haatchi came. But when Haatchi came I wasn’t scared. He changed how I felt about being in a wheelchair. He is special because he changed my life.”

Before Haatchi, Owen says he hadn’t met many others who live with disabilities. But seeing how Haatchi was able to adapt to his challenges made Owen see he could do the same himself.

“When I saw Haatchi and saw how strong he was, even though he only had three legs, I became stronger myself,” Owen tells the Basingstoke Gazette.

Owen’s father, Will Howkins, says he and his family were excited to adopt a dog, but none of them could predict what an impact Haatchi would have on Owen.

“Owen used to be scared of strangers, but now he wants to talk to everyone about Haatchi and wants to go out all the time to dog shows. The difference we see in him can’t be put into words,” Colleen agrees.

Word of Owen and Haatchi’s friendship spread quickly, and in 2013, the pair was honored with the title Friends for Life at the prestigious Crufts Dog Show.

Then, Owen and Haatchi were approached about writing a book.

“We spoke to Owen about it and he loved the idea. And that’s how it started,” Will tells the Daily Mail. “He likes the fact he is now an author and he is thrilled by it. He loves the fact people are able to read about his syndrome and understand it.”

Their book, Haatchi & Little B, is co-authored by best-selling writer Wendy Holden. It was released earlier this month.

For updates on Haatchi and his best buddy Owen, visit Haatchi’s Facebook page.

Sources: Daily Mail, Basingstoke Gazette, ITV News