SYDNEY, N.S. – James Delorey’s dog hung its head outside the window of a hearse at the boy’s funeral service Monday, a moment that symbolized the loyalty the faithful family pet displayed for the seven-year-old boy.
Chance sat in the front passenger seat as the funeral procession arrived at a church in Cape Breton, where hundreds gathered to mourn a boy who captured hearts across the country.
James got lost after following Chance – a mixed-breed – into the woods near his home in South Bar, outside Sydney.
Chance returned two days later and searchers found James unconscious, curled up under a thick stand of spruce, after they traced the dog’s paw prints in the snow.
Hopes that James would survive were dashed a day later after he died in hospital of hypothermia.
During his sermon Monday, Rev. Errol MacDonald said while the fervent hope that James would recover did not come to pass, the frantic efforts to find him brought people together.
“This is the busiest time of the year. Everyone is caught up with their own agendas,” the priest said, standing before a casket draped in white.
“Yet in the past week, everyone stopped. And in that stopping they found the true meaning of Christmas – that a child would give us hope.”
MacDonald also expressed hope during the service that the tragedy might create a broader understanding of autism.
The search for James was made more difficult because he was autistic and couldn’t speak.
Searchers were told that he probably wouldn’t respond to their calls.
They were told to shout words to which he might respond, including pizza, his favourite food, and “Come on, let’s go see mummy.”
James had run away before, usually showing up not far from his home at a neighbour’s house.
Many of the police, paramedics and ground searchers who helped look for the boy formed an honour guard outside Holy Redeemer Church after the service and some placed spruce cuttings on top of the casket after it was carried out.
The service included a choir singing Christmas carols.
An emotional Paul Vienneau of Cape Breton search and rescue could barely speak as he described the funeral as “very sombre, very heartbreaking.”
“I lost it when they started singing Silent Night,” said Vienneau.
Cape Breton Liberal MP Mark Eyking was among the mourners but he too said he found it hard to talk once outside the church.
“This time of year, it’s hard. Just a sad, sad situation,” he said.
“But there was a lot of inspiration there too from the priest’s word that we all stick together here in Cape Breton. It was a powerful message.”
James wasn’t wearing winter clothes when he was reported missing. A snowstorm hit Nova Scotia hours later, which hampered search efforts.
Rescue officials said James probably clung to life by seeking shelter in the thick underbrush and huddling with Chance.
He was suffering from extreme hypothermia when he was found and airlifted to a children’s hospital in Halifax.
But the cold took its toll.