The Future of Hope
Today, he needs a friend. Tomorrow, he’ll need a guide dog.
There’s never been a boy quite like James. At six, this curious child knows no strangers; talks non-stop to anyone; holds long conversations over the fence with the grown-up neighbor; asks his patent-attorney dad complex, abstract questions; plays the violin, accompanied by his mom on piano; identifies orchestra instruments in original Beatles songs; dances to vintage Van Halen LP albums on an old stereo (after following the parental rule of “no Van Halen before 8:00 a.m.”); and has learned to take 21 pills per session in his lifelong fight against childhood cancer, the same cancer that stole his vision.
For that last skill, though, James needs a little help from his best friend, Cherman. A Kids Companion Dog for kids with vision loss, Cherman always rests his head on James’ knee during weekly pill time, as if to say, “C’mon James, you can do it—I’m right here with you.”
“I love you, Chermie. You’re the best yellow dog of all time,” says James, every day.
“He’s a quirky dog, and so affectionate by nature,” says James’ dad, Wiley.
Inseparable, the two share life like soulmates, bosom buddies, Frick and Frack. Sure, they also play with James’ siblings, 9-year-old Eliza and 7-year-old Charlie, but where James goes, Cherman follows.
When James plays the violin, Cherman listens at his feet. When the kids build a fort out of pillows and blankets, Cherman’s bed sits in the middle. When James races around the backyard or swings on the swing, Cherman races too, and has learned to avoid James’ wild, swinging feet. Since James can’t see Cherman very well, his dog waits patiently for the jump-off, avoiding a collision.
But this smart, well-behaved, people-loving, cuddly dog is there for more than fun-and-games, despite appearances. He’s there on a mission, one that parents Eva and Wiley planned from the beginning.
“Cherman isn’t officially a guide dog—but one of the reasons I love this relationship James is building is because having a service dog is going to be essential.”
Diagnosed at three months old with a glioma, a spider-web-like tumor that presses on the optic nerve, James has fought cancer longer than he remembers, with his parents leading the charge. Full of faith, prayer, and hard-won information, they’re playing the long game and planning for James’ future—one full of hope, and one that someday includes a guide dog.
“Cherman isn’t officially a guide dog—but one of the reasons I love this relationship James is building is because having a service dog is going to be essential,” says Wiley. “In all likelihood, he’s not going to be able to live independently without having a dog. My greatest hope for James is that he will be healthy and be able to lead a full and active life. I don’t know that he will be able to see much as he gets older, but he has a really profound intellect. I hope that will continue to develop, and that James will be able to go through high school, college, graduate school—if that’s what he wants to do—and go out in the world and be gainfully employed and independent.”
“I would love anything for James that will help him have a full, independent life,” says Eva. “I 100% think a guide dog would open doors for him to do things he may not be able to do on his own. Right now, he holds my hand, he holds a teacher’s hand, he holds my husband’s hand, he holds his sister’s hand. But we can’t do everything with him forever—I
probably won’t go to college with him. But I hope he has a dog he can rely on, that can enable him to do a lot more than he could otherwise.
“There’s no denying the whole family loves Cherman, but we got Cherman for James,” Eva continues. “Cherman is part of James’ big, full life—he’s James’ special friend. We always talk about how much we love him and how grateful we are for him. It’s a blessing to have Cherman. He’s part of the family.”