Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog

Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog

by Wendy Holden


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When Owen met Haatchi, the lives of one adorable little boy and one great, big dog were destined to change forever.

Owen-known to his family as "little buddy" or "Little B"-has a rare genetic disorder that leaves him largely confined to a wheelchair.

Haatchi-an adorable Anatolian Shepherd puppy-was abused and left for dead on railroad tracks. He was struck by an oncoming train, and although his life was saved, his leg and tail were partially severed.

But kind-hearted Will and Colleen Howkins, Little B's father and stepmother, decided to introduce the big dog and the little boy to each other, and an unbelievable bond was formed that transformed both boy and dog in miraculous ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250069368
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 351,686
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

WENDY HOLDEN's first novel, The Sense of Paper, was published by Random House, New York, in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim. Other works have included the best-selling novelization of the award-winning films The Full Monty, plus Shell Shock - an investigation into PTSD from the First World War. She lives on a farm in Suffolk, England, with her husband and two dogs.

Read an Excerpt

Haatchi & Little B

The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog

By Wendy Holden

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Owen Howkins and Wendy Holden
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6819-9


'All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.'

St Francis of Assisi

Nobody can be certain how the dog who was later designated 'Stray: E10' came to be on the railway tracks that bitter night of 9 January 2012. Few could fathom what kind of human being would abandon a five-month-old Anatolian Shepherd in a securely fenced-off area on a busy railway line with no means of escape. Those who found him thought he may have been clubbed around the head and face with a blunt instrument and thrown on to the line. Some reports claimed that he may have been tied to the tracks and speculated that the wheels of the train severed his bonds, allowing him to escape further injury.

Only one person knows the full story – the man with a foreign accent who was responsible for the defenceless animal that night. He was spotted briefly on the tracks by a railway operations manager minutes before the dog was found, but he scurried off into the darkness before any searching questions could be asked. Not surprisingly, he never came forward to claim the animal he'd left behind.

No matter what the precise circumstances of the events that led to the near-fatal mutilation of the handsome young dog, everyone agrees that it was an act of barbaric cruelty.

It could have been the work of a madman, or the result of a deal gone wrong. Perhaps the long-legged hound was no longer cute enough to make his breeder the £500-plus that Anatolian Shepherds frequently fetched. He might have been as large as a Labrador, but he was still only a puppy and puppies can be both demanding and expensive.

Nor does anyone know exactly what happened next. The driver who first reported hitting an animal on the line wasn't even initially sure it was a dog and he certainly didn't believe the creature could have survived the impact. Part of him must have hoped that its death had been quick and painless.

The first miracle, though, is that the dog wasn't killed outright. Somehow, as the goods train bore down upon him, he managed to flatten himself against the track-bed and avoid fatal injuries. Sadly, he was unable to escape the train altogether and the wheels almost severed his back left leg.

The second miracle is that – driven by an innate instinct to escape from danger – he somehow managed to lift his shattered body on to his uninjured legs and limp away, leaving a telltale trail of blood.

There can be no disputing that he would have been in acute pain as he pulled himself across to what he must have hoped was a place of safety, where he slumped between adjacent tracks. Little did he know that, in that busy rail corridor, with only narrow shingle banks on either side, he was still directly in the line of freight and passenger traffic.

No one can know how long after the first impact the abandoned Anatolian Shepherd lay there in the cold – without food or water, losing blood, sniffing at and occasionally licking his wounds. Further train drivers who spotted him near what is known locally as the Ruckholt Road Junction, on the edge of Hackney Marsh and Leyton, alerted staff working in the operations control room. Someone there then contacted the network's mobile operations manager, Nigel Morris, and asked him to investigate, but it was decided not to shut down the vital rail lifeline until there had been a direct sighting of the injured animal and confirmation that it was still alive.

Carrying a torch and letting himself into the secure area via a locked metal gate, Nigel began searching for a dog on the line. The area where it had been sighted was extremely busy that night, with a total of four lines carrying passenger trains to London's Stansted Airport and Cambridge, as well as freight trains to and from the goods yard.

Nigel was initially directed to the Temple Mills area, where barking had been heard, but it turned out to be a guard dog patrolling a locked trading estate. He started making his way back down the track in the other direction when suddenly he came across a man walking along the line towards him in the dark. The heavy-set stranger had two huge dogs with him – an Alsatian and a Mastiff, both on short leashes. Nigel couldn't understand how the interloper had managed to get through multiple fences and tight security with two big dogs. He had a far more pressing concern, however: trains were still passing them, so he quickly used his radio to report a trespasser on the line and call for the trains to be stopped.

As Nigel drew closer to the stranger, he called out and asked him what he was doing there. The man, who was in his forties and around six feet tall with what sounded like an Eastern European accent, seemed completely unfazed. He claimed that he was looking for his dog. Strangely, though, he was walking away from where Nigel had been told an injured dog had been seen.

As Nigel's chief concern was to get the man off the track and to safety, he let him and his dogs out through the nearest access gate and quickly radioed that the trains could start running again. He called after the stranger to tell him that he'd keep looking for his dog, but was surprised when the man showed no interest and scurried off. Nigel watched him slope away into the darkness, then carried on searching along the track with his torch until eventually he spotted what he later described as a 'shadow between the rails'.

It was a dog, just lying there flat on its chest without moving. Nigel approached cautiously, although he assumed that it was dead and that he would have to deal with the body. When he got closer, however, he saw to his surprise that the animal was still alive, though its left rear leg and paw were covered in blood.

Nigel quickly realized that the dog was not only docile but too severely injured to attack him. He tried to shift it off the rails but ended up with blood all over his clothes and shoes; it was clear he wouldn't be able to manage on his own. He called his control room and asked them to contact the RSPCA and get them to send one of their officers to help him. Then he stayed near the injured dog and waited.

* * *

The RSPCA's uniformed welfare officer on duty in East London that winter's night was Siobhan Trinnaman, so it was she who received the call just after 7 p.m. to attend a 'dog on the line'. Having taken a note of the postcode – somewhere in E10 – she jumped into her Citroën Berlingo van with the distinctive RSPCA logo on the side and drove to the area, which lay in the shadow of the massive new Olympics site.

Nigel Morris met her on the street and unlocked an access gate which allowed them to pass through the secure fencing erected as part of the Olympics 'ring of steel'. Siobhan eventually found herself standing on the perilously narrow shingle strip at the edge of the busy line that transported people and produce across the country and beyond. As trains continued to trundle past, she picked her way over the uneven pebbly ground to where Nigel had discovered the dog. Shining the beam of her torch left and right she eventually found the animal lying between the tracks. She could see immediately that it was in a bad way and bleeding heavily. Standing a safe distance from where it lay, Siobhan played her torchlight along its body and noted that it was a male dog with serious injuries to its lower limbs. She was relieved to see him lift his head and look straight at her.

Then she heard something that made her gasp. Jumping back against a fence, she realized that another train was approaching.

Nigel quickly reassured her. 'It's okay,' he said. 'Watch. The dog knows what to do. The trains just ride over it. There's just enough room as long as it doesn't try to get up.'

The two of them pressed back and held their breath as a passenger train rattled towards the dog at a speed of around 45 m.p.h. Siobhan watched in amazement as the animal, ears flattened to his head, simply lay back down and let the train rumble over him. As soon as the final carriage had passed, he lifted his head again – ears pricked – and looked across at them to reassure himself that they were still there.

The minute she saw the pleading look in his eyes, Siobhan begged Nigel to get the line shut down as quickly as possible.

With so many urban foxes, stray dogs and cats crisscrossing Britain's busy train tracks every day, it is Network Rail's policy not to shut down a line for an animal and no longer even to caution train drivers. They can, however, order a signaller to carry out what is known as a 'line blockage' if people or animals are considered to be in direct danger. Nigel radioed his control room and had the line temporarily closed for the second time that night so that he and Siobhan could cross safely to where the injured dog lay. As soon as they were promised that all trains had been stopped in both directions further up the tracks, they hurried to his side.

The first thing Siobhan noticed was that the top of the dog's head was noticeably swollen. In her five years as an RSPCA officer she had seen countless victims of abuse and cruelty, and experience told her he'd been hit on the head by something – most likely a blunt instrument. A train would have done far more damage. His leg and tail were badly mangled, and his tail especially was losing blood. She couldn't tell if he had any internal injuries but he didn't appear to be too tender inside when she examined him and she knew a trained vet would be able to establish exactly what was wrong.

In spite of his injuries, the dog seemed sweet-natured and not at all like so many she had had to deal with in her line of duty. A lot of animals as badly hurt as he was would have growled if she even came close and would almost certainly have tried to bite her; she carried a muzzle just in case. This gentle giant didn't seem to mind her touching him at all, though, and only whimpered a little when she did so.

Siobhan had the authority to order that an animal in distress or seriously injured could be put to sleep at the scene by a vet if she thought it was beyond help. However, because this dog didn't appear to be injured anywhere else and was, as she later said, so 'lovely and friendly', she made the decision there and then to try to save him.

With some difficulty, she and Nigel took one end of the dog each and managed to get him up on to three legs before carrying him a couple of hundred yards to where she'd parked her van. Apart from the odd whimper, he barely made a sound as they moved him and then lifted him into the back. As she wasn't qualified as a vet, Siobhan carried no pain relief, but she settled him on to bedding on his uninjured side and thanked the operations manager for his help.

Although Nigel Morris had been working for Network Rail for twelve years, that January night in 2012 was the first time he'd ever had to deal with an injured dog on the railway line. An animal lover, whose parents had two much-loved dogs back home in Trinidad, he said later that he would gladly have adopted this injured Anatolian Shepherd if his working life had allowed him to have a pet; there was just something about the dog that really struck him. He watched as Siobhan's van sped away and really hoped the poor creature would make it.

* * *

Siobhan drove as quickly as she could to the RSPCA's Harmsworth Memorial Animal Hospital in Holloway, North London. The hospital, which provides a twenty-four-hour, low-cost veterinary service for people on reduced incomes, was built in 1968 thanks to a donation from newspaper magnate Sir Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere. Student vets train here and staff treat more than nine thousand animals every year – including many stray and injured dogs.

The young dog who'd been found on the railway tracks cried out a couple of times during the twenty-five-minute journey to Harmsworth, especially whenever his tail or leg touched the side of the van, but apart from that he was surprisingly stoical. When Siobhan eventually arrived, her clothes still covered in his blood, she was assisted by two of the vet nurses who helped her lift him on to a trolley and wheeled him inside.

Stan McCaskie, the hospital's clinical director and the senior vet on duty that night, saw to the dog immediately in the prep room, examining his wounds and doing all he could to stem the bleeding.

'I'll never forget seeing this big dog wheeled towards me on the trolley, half sitting up and looking all around him,' he said later. 'He seemed most amenable and almost relaxed. When I was told he'd been hit by a train I couldn't believe it. I prayed that he still had both his back legs, which are the ones that are usually lost. Fortunately, he had one good leg left, but the other was stripped of all its skin and crushed flat from above the ankle right down to the end of his paw.'

Stan, who first came to England on a scholarship from Barbados in 1989 to study to be a vet and has been at Harmsworth for twenty-four years, knew that the important thing was to stabilize the dog after the shock of his experience. He placed him on a drip to rehydrate him, gave him some painkillers and antibiotics, and then cleaned and dressed his wounds, which included an impact injury to his lip that required stitching and a contusion or bruise to his head. His tail was almost completely severed and Stan knew he would lose it along with his rear leg, but after such a trauma the first thing to do was to make sure he survived the next few days. This was critical, otherwise they might well lose him under the anaesthetic.

The staff laid the dog on a duvet in a warm, quiet, walk-in kennel and the vet nurses on duty were asked to monitor him throughout the night. For a while it was touch and go whether he'd make it at all, and several who saw him there fully expected him not to.

Stan McCaskie went back to his night shift and some surgery on a wounded cat, and that was the last he saw of the injured dog. 'So often we have cases come in and we treat them and then never see or hear of them again,' he said. 'I didn't have any follow-up with the Anatolian Shepherd, but I never forgot him. He had such a lovely way about him.'

Siobhan Trinnaman felt the same. When she left the dog she'd officially listed in the record books as 'Stray: E10' in the care of the hospital that night, she knew there was a chance that he might not survive. The thought saddened her. 'He really stuck in my mind, and not just because of where and how he was found,' she remembered later. 'There was a look in his eyes that made me think about him long afterwards.'

Even those at Harmsworth who were accustomed to animal cruelty – an estimated 15 per cent of their cases are caused by violence or neglect – were shocked by what had happened to their newest patient. Veterinary staff who'd previously rescued animals involved in dogfights, or that had been stabbed or beaten until their bones were broken, did all they could to keep this one alive too. It was clear that he'd been hit over the head and the general feeling was that he must have been knocked unconscious or maybe even tied somehow so that he couldn't get out of the path of the train. It was so sad to see a beautiful young animal like that in such a terrible state and 'Stray: E10' won the hearts of everyone who saw him, not least because, although he was so poorly and had been sedated, he still looked up hopefully every time anyone came near.

Michelle Hurley was one of the first to see the wounded animal soon after he'd been settled into his kennel on that first night. She volunteered for a charity based in North London called All Dogs Matter and she visited Harmsworth and other shelters two or three times a week. Relying largely on volunteers, All Dogs Matter rescues some 250–300 dogs a year and rehomes them to foster carers all over the country, and they take in as many from Harmsworth as they can. As part of her job helping find homes for strays, Michelle frequently takes photographs of the animals, which she then posts on various rescue websites. Whenever there's a success story with a rescue animal the charity uses such 'before and after' images to highlight animal cruelty – but they are often distressing pictures to take. She took some shots of the injured Anatolian while he still had his mangled leg and was looking extremely sorry for himself.


Excerpted from Haatchi & Little B by Wendy Holden. Copyright © 2014 Owen Howkins and Wendy Holden. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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