Zoey Henry, 11, has had a rough time lately. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain stem cancer, she went though a year of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor.
When the Make-A-Wish foundation offered Zoey the chance to fulfill her dreams, she thought hard and knew exactly what she wanted: to take pictures of dogs.
That's how she found herself recently in New York City's Washington Square Park, trying to hold a ball in a dog’s line of vision to get her attention, then pull it back, all while snapping a photo. One dog, Roo, patiently waited while Zoey practiced her dog photography skills.
Her guide for her Make-A-Wish was professional dog photographer, Elias Weiss Friedman, known as The Dogist for his canine pictures. It's a first for Friedman.
“We were very humbled and honored that someone wanted us as their wish,” Friedman tells TODAY Parents.
All Zoey’s life, her family thought she was simply uncoordinated— her affectionate nickname was even “clumsy Zoey.” One day in 2019 she fell, and the next day she continued stumbling.
“She kept on falling .... When we tried to talk to her, she started crying. Her face went slack on one side,” mom Tamara Henry of Brooklyn, New York, tells TODAY Parents. “She was slurring.”
The family rushed to the hospital. They learned that Zoey had a glioma, a brain stem cancer. It was stage 1 but because of where it’s located, surgery isn’t an option to remove it.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I blanked,” Henry says. “I just couldn’t process it.”
Zoey felt stunned.
“When they first told me, I was shocked,” she says. “I always thought I was clumsy, and I just tripped over air.”
Zoey did chemotherapy for a year to shrink the tumor.
“It was really hard, because sometimes I would wake up at night and not feel well,” she says. “Sometimes I would vomit.”
The chemotherapy stopped the tumor from growing.
“It has shrunken, so we monitor every four to six months,” Henry says.
Zoey can enjoy most of the things that her sister and friends like. But the tumor has created a few lasting health problems: She has a foot drop, and sometimes she struggles with her emotions, memory and execution.
“We’ll work with therapy. We just live with it and learn to adapt,” her mom says. “Not make a big deal of it, and keep living.”
Learning to be like the Dogist
As Zoey considered what she wanted to do for Make-A-Wish, she immediately knew she wanted to do something with dogs. Her most frequent photography subject is her family dog, Diesel; he often comforted her when she was going through chemotherapy.
“I love him very much, and he’s a very photogenic dog,” Zoey said.
“I thought maybe I can take pictures of these other dogs,” Zoey says. “They’re so cute and people might not recognize that there’s so (many) dogs that don’t have homes yet.”
Make-A-Wish gave Zoey a camera and Friedman helped her adjust her camera strap and select her lens. Dogs are unpredictable, so speed is key in grabbing the shot.
“You have to be quick and ready,” Friedman said. “You’re capturing this moment of attention that the dog is giving you and sometimes that attention disappears in the next second.”
Zoey experienced several unexpected moments but handled them with grace.
“Some dogs got so excited that they came up and licked the camera,” Zoey said. “But I got some good shots.”
After Washington Square Park the pair went to Tompkins Square to see the dogs dressed up for the annual Halloween parade. Friedman caught a glimpse of Zoey quickly shooting pictures amid the chaos of humans and dogs.
“Everyone’s dog is dressed up in costume and it’s this fun dog photography frenzy. The exciting thing also for her is how it empowered her to use a camera in a way that I was, which is approaching strangers, asking them for a picture and then doing it,” he said. “A big thing for a lot of photographers is, ‘How do you talk to people? How do you ask for a photo?' And the fact that Zoey was doing it reflexively — that was probably something she’s never done before — it was awesome.”
Later, Zoey joined Friedman at the St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, where she met and photographed shelter dogs. She wanted to raise money to help those pups; The Dogist shared a reel from that day and encouraged people to donate. So far, she’s raised nearly $14,000.
“That money didn’t exist before Zoey’s video went up so that’s all Zoey’s inspiration,” Friedman said. “People are very moved by that whole Make-A-Wish.”
He hopes this experience bolsters Zoey’s confidence.
“She has this awesome camera, and she can go use it wherever she wants and be like, ‘The Dogist trained me how to do it. Trust me, I know what I’m doing,’” he says.
The Dogist featured Zoey's photos for two days, and the experience reinforced for Friedman why he does what he does.
“She could have had any wish in the world. She picked something that was so true to herself,” he says. “Dogs don’t know how to fake it for the camera. They just are themselves. They’re this funny, beautiful, honest subject and they have the same emotions that we do, and we can see how they express themselves … it’s just so wholesome and honest and real.”
Zoey came home from her photography days bubbling with excitement.
“She could not be quiet,” Henry says. “Now, she’s even more driven. She’s scouting, getting pictures and getting portraits.”
Her mom hopes that Zoey’s experience shows others they can follow their dreams even when it seems difficult.
“The diagnosis doesn’t stop you,” Henry says. “Just consider it is something extra, it’s a feature you have, and you make the best of it.”