Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway

Wills is the much loved son of Michael and Monica, and he also has high functioning autism.  This book is the story of how Monica brings a menagerie of small animals into his life (that builds into a small zoo) that make a difference, and the story of a golden retriever named Cowboy who made big changes in all of their lives.  This is a families journey of discovery, love, and hope, and a draining and exhausting story of a family that battles through the heartache of a puppy with health problems so severe that most people would have given up immediately. 

As emotional roller coasters go, this book will take you on a journey from laughter, to crying, to laughing, to poignant moments that will take your breath away.  In places you will definitely need the tissues nearby, but it is an amazing story of a little boy who makes connections to the world around him and finds his place amongst his peers, and about a golden retriever who walked beside (and even dragged him forward) to make friends.

If you have read A friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner you will be struck by the similarities between Dale and Wills.  Both are locked in their own world and struggle with the world we all live in, to the point of screaming or running away.  For both boys a golden retriever entered their lives and began to make a positive difference, helping them to connect to the world around them.  Both mothers provide a detailed (but not analytical) account of the lead up to the big autism diagnosis, and the special schools and therapies that they entered into to help their sons. 

But there is something missing from Cowboy and Wills, something that leaves you a little bit wanting, almost like it was written as a script for a movie rather than truly narrating what came from the heart.  That could partly be because Cowboy becomes so ill and so much of the book is about Cowboy and the lengths they go to in an attempt to find a diagnosis, to find a treatment, the hope that she will pull through.  It could also just be that I have read too many of these types of books recently about service dogs and assistance dogs, and that A friend like Henry has stuck with me more because it was the first book of this type that I read - I really just don't know but this book just didn't "gel" as well with me.

This is an amazing book from the point of view that Monica is a mother determined to move heaven and earth (and the occasional small animal) to help her son get the best out of life - the special school, the therapists, the pets, the puppy, all working towards Wills having as normal a life as possible.  Monica and Michael are obviously devoted parents, and Wills thrives under their support, and I really enjoyed reading the book and seeing the changes Cowboy helped to make - don't let me put you off reading it, you just may want to try reading A friend like Henry afterwards and draw your own conclusions.  This at times feels very much like someone went there's a story about a child with autism in the United Kingdom and the golden retriever that helped change his life, lets tell the American version now we've seen how popular this type of book is becoming.

Although Cowboy was not technically an assistance dog or service dog because she had no formal training in that area, I have categorised this book with the other assistance/service dog biographies because that is the best fit and the parts of this book that you enjoy are most likely to be the parts of those books that you enjoy.

If you like this book then try:
  • A friend like Henry by Nuala Garnder
  • Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan
  • A dog named Slugger by Leigh Brill
  • A dog in a million by Hazel Carter
  • Partners for life by Jane Bidder

Reviewed by Brilla

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