When Harry Met Kaatje

When Harry Met Kaatje

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

When Harry Met Kaatje

No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.

Louis Sabin

December 1994. In Holland on a business trip, I had completed my assignment and was heading home. It was early morning on a cold and rainy Saturday, and I was on my way from the hotel to Amsterdam Central Station to catch the train to the airport.

Just outside the train station, I came across a homeless man. I’d seen this particular man a number of times in the past, as I’d traveled through Amsterdam quite often, and usually gave him some change. Many homeless people call Amsterdam Central Station their home, but this man really stuck in my mind because he was always so good-natured.

That day, because of the holidays, I was feeling particularly upbeat, so I handed the man fifty guilders (about twenty-five dollars) and wished him a Merry Christmas. With tears welling up in his eyes, he thanked me pro- fusely for my generosity and asked my name. I told him mine was Dave, and he said his was Harry. We chatted briefly and went our separate ways.

As I walked up to the ticket vending machine inside the train station, I reached into my wallet, but found nothing. I realized that I had just given Harry the last of my money, and the bank was not yet open for currency exchange. I had no Dutch money left to buy my ticket to the airport. As I stood, pondering my predicament, along came Harry. He saw me standing there bewildered and asked if I needed help with the ticket vending machine, as it was entirely in Dutch.

I explained that this was not the difficulty. My actual problem was that I had no money. Without the slightest hesitation, Harry punched out the code for a ticket to the airport, and deposited the change required. Out came a ticket. He handed it to me and said, “Thank you.”

I asked why he was thanking me when it was I who was indebted to him.

He said, “Because I have been on the street for many years. I don’t have a lot of friends, and you are the first person in a long time that I have been able to help. This is why I thank you.”

Over the next eight years, I continued seeing Harry at the train station when I passed through Amsterdam, which was almost every month. He usually saw me first and came over for some conversation. A number of times we had dinner together. Dinner with Harry isn’t what most people think of as a normal meal. We would purchase pizza or fries from the outdoor vendors and sit on the curb to eat, since Harry wasn’t welcome in restaurants. I didn’t care; I considered Harry a good friend.

Then, starting in June 2002, I stopped seeing Harry at the train station. I thought the worst—that Harry, even though he was fairly young and healthy, had probably frozen to death or been killed.

In early 2003, I was in Amsterdam for my monthly visit. It was 5:30 on Saturday morning, and I was on my way to the train station. Suddenly, I heard a voice yell, “Hey, Dave.”

I turned to see a clean-shaven, casually dressed gentleman walking a medium-sized brown and white collie-type dog. They were coming my way. I had no idea who this person was. He walked up to me, shook my hand and said, “It’s me. Harry.”

I was in complete shock! I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen the man without ragged clothes and layers of dirt all over himself, and now he looked completely respectable. He began to tell me the story of where he had been for the last several months.

It all began with the dog he was now walking. Kaatje, his new companion, had just shown up one day and started hanging out with him at the train station. He and the dog lived on the street for a few months until one day Kaatjewas run over by a car. Harry rushed the dog to a vet, who informed him that the cost of surgery to repair the dog’s hip was going to be very expensive. Harry, of course, had no money. The vet made Harry an offer: if he performed the operation, Harry would take up residence on a cot in the back of the vet’s office and work for him by watching the dogs during the night shift until the surgery was paid off. Harry readily accepted the offer.

Kaatje came through the hip surgery with flying colors. Harry kept his end of the bargain. Because he was so kind to the animals and was such a good worker, when the bill was paid off, the vet offered Harry a permanent position. With a steady salary, Harry was able to get an apartment for himself and Kaatje. Harry was no longer homeless. His love for Kaatje had rescued him from the streets. He stood before me now, looking like any pleasant young man out for a walk with his dog on a Saturday morning.

It was time to catch my train. Harry and I shook hands, and Kaatje gave me a nice good-bye face wash.

“Let’s get together the next time I’m in Amsterdam,” I said.

“I’d like that,” Harry said with a warm smile.

We made plans to meet for dinner near the train station on my next trip and parted ways.

Just before going into the train station, I turned so I could watch man and dog walking happily back to a place people sometimes take for granted—a place called home.

Dave Wiley

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