Spencer, the treasured golden retriever who cheered on thousands of Boston Marathon runners with his “Boston Strong” flag, died this month at 13 after fighting several rounds of cancer.
Holding flags in his mouth, Spencer was a fixture on the marathon route beginning in 2015. He was named the Official Dog of the 126th Boston Marathon last year, and the Marathon announced this week that he would retain that title forever.
Spencer, who also worked as a therapy dog, adored by the runners of the marathon and who would stop and pose for pictures or give him hugs during the race. He overcame cancer (and a 3.5-pound tumor) in 2020—in enough time to attend the 2021 and his last marathon.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with “inoperable” liver cancer in September, and he died Feb. 17. He was with his family.
In 2015, two years after the Boston Marathon bombing, Powers gave a “Boston Strong” flag to Spencer, who loved to hold things. Together they cheered for runners passing by, about two and a half miles into the 26.2 mile race.
Spencer’s brush with fame began in 2018 when runners were treated to a 20-to-30-mile-per-hour headwind and freezing rain. Powers looked at Spencer and said, “You know what, let’s do this.”
Powers dressed Spencer in his own navy rain jacket — it just fit the retriever — walked to their cheering spot near Ashland State Park, and in the brutal conditions they cheered on the runners. Spencer, perched on a wooden crate with two flags tucked in his mouth flapping in the wind, squinted as rain pelted his face for more than four hours. Powers posted a video of Spencer before his phone succumbed to the conditions. When he later turned it back on, he was floored to see his video had gone viral. Soon after, Powers started receiving requests about whether Spencer would be there again in 2019. Spencer went to the course in 2020 with his flag even though no one was there. He went in 2021 too, on what would have been Boston Marathon Monday, despite the race having been postponed because of the pandemic. He returned for the race’s triumphant running on Oct. 11, 2021.
By 2022 he had become so popular that Powers had a friend hold a sign saying “Spencer coming up on the right” so runners wouldn’t miss him. Packs of runners would then form lines on the right side of the course. They wanted to pet him, hug him, get a photo with him. And Spencer wanted to properly greet (and lick) everyone. The runners were willing to wait, adding minutes to their marathon finish time.
On April 13, 2022, days before the marathon, the B.A.A. held a ceremony to honor Spencer’s years of service alongside the course. He arrived in a limousine and received an official race bib. In the fall of 2022 Spencer’s cancer returned but treatment was no longer an option. Rich and Dorrey monitored him diligently, letting him set the pace. He was never in pain, Rich Powers said. Spencer’s final days were filled with visitors and treats, Frisbees and naps on the couch.
On Feb. 15, Spencer became noticeably weaker, and the following day Powers knew the call he had to make. The veterinarian was scheduled to come to their home on Feb. 17 to euthanize the dog. Ten minutes before the doctor arrived, Spencer began shutting down.
A truly inspirational story.