Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review: Cowboy and Wills (dog, boy, autism, puppy mills)

Cowboy and Wills, A Love Story, by Monica Holloway, 2009, 279 pp., about $24.00.

I really must stop starting books at 10 pm: this is the fourth book in a row, the fourth night in a row, that I have not been able to put down a book until I finished it in the wee hours of the morning. And I am pretty selective in the books that I love. This one I love.

There are several titles currently in bookstores about autistic kids and their dogs. Perhaps you have read Nuala Gardner's A Friend Like Henry: The Remarkable True Story of an Autistic Boy and the Dog That Unlocked His World. Just like Henry, Cowboy unlocks the world for Wills.

Cowboy Carol Lawrence Holloway is a female golden retriever puppy who owns Wills, a young kindergartener with an autism spectrum disorder. In many ways, Wills is brilliant but he is also inordinately shy and simply overwhelmed by noises (like at birthday parties and Halloween) and by changes in routine. Cowboy doesn’t care. She loves Wills anyway and because they are inseparable, Cowboy brings Wills along with her out into the world and shows Wills that he can survive – she gives him the courage. He follows her because she is his ‘sister.’

Wills was diagnosed at age 3 and wanted a puppy from that time on. Instead, he got a  fish and a hamster and a turtle and a bunny but it is not until Cowboy entered his world that little steps became big steps. Cowboy finally arrived on Christmas when Wills was 6 and both he and his mom had the flu.

Mother Monica has done her research and decided NOT to get a puppy from a pet store for fear it will be a puppy mill puppy, but she has promised Wills a puppy before she has located one and there are just no puppies to be found as Christmas fast approaches. Therefore, Monica goes to an upscale pet store that locates a puppy from Missouri. Cowboy turns out to be one sick little puppy but the family loves her and nurses her back to health.

Cowboy is not a trained therapy dog (she is not even trained!) but she nevertheless works miracles for Wills by just being herself. She sleeps with Wills (for the first time, he can sleep in his own bed in his own room because Cowboy is there), she runs around the backyard like a zoomie and digs in the dirt and swims in the pool: eventually Wills relaxes and doesn't let the dirt bother him. He even jumps in the backyard pool (to save Cowboy) for the first time!

Cowboy is so cute and huggable and adorable that everyone loves her on sight - all the kids in Wills' class especially, and, because of Cowboy, Wills ventures out of his shell and really becomes an accepted member of the class. Cowboy brings him right along with her because “Cowboy needs me,” he says.

This is a book you will like - you will like Wills and Mother Monica and Father Michael and you will love Cowboy. She is rambunctious - just what the doctor would order to bring Wills into the world. And that is what happens, slowly. This is a heart-warming story that you just won't be able to put down. I couldn’t.

Interspersed with photos of Wills and photos of Cowboy and photos of Wills and Cowboy, Monica's story is actually two stories: the story of Wills’ awakening and the story of love by and for Cowboy. Cowboy stays around just long enough to complete her work.

In many ways, this is also Monica’s story: even Monica changes from an overly protective mother who cleans and cleans and cleans again (compulsively) to that hardest role of all – a mother who lets go.

I can’t think of a better name for a female golden retriever than Cowboy!

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, March-April 2010.)

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