Dozens of golden retrievers walked to the finish line ahead of Sunday’s Boston Marathon in honor of Spencer — the golden retriever who became the race’s official dog before dying in February —and his niece Penny, who also died in February.
Spencer first went viral in 2018 for holding “Boston Strong” flags in his mouth throughout the rain-soaked race to cheer on runners. Spencer watched the marathon for years from his usual spot on the route near Ashland State Park, according to Boston’s WCVB-TV.
Per CBS News, the owners of the golden retrievers met on Boston Common the day before Monday’s race and walked to the finish line with their pets sporting “Golden Strong” bandanas to honor Spencer’s mark on the marathon. A dollar for each bandana sold was donated to the Morris Animal Foundation’s canine cancer research, Today.com reported.
“The news of Penny’s passing broke the morning of an event that we had,” Elisha Bussiere, co-founder of MA Golden Meetups, told CBS. “So we all drove to the event, get out of our cars, and everyone’s faces were just very sullen, somber. Just heartbroken. So one of the members suggested why don’t we have a representation at the Boston Marathon since Spencer won’t be there this year, and it just grew from there. It was a wonderful idea.”
Bussiere added to Today.com: “I think that we all need hope, we all need happiness. Especially in recent years, everyone can use a smile. Who better than golden retrievers to bring that smile?”
PEOPLE reached out to Elisha Bussiere for comment.
Though Spencer took a two-and-a-half-year break from the marathon while undergoing cancer treatment, he returned to rally runners during the 2021 race despite his health issues.
Nearly two years later, Spencer died on Feb. 17 at age 13 after overcoming multiple bouts of cancer, according to an Instagram post from his owner, Rich Powers.
“We are devastated to share the news of Spencer’s passing,” Powers said. “We were loaned [an] incredible gift in 2009 and we had to return the gift last Friday,” he wrote at the time.
“Spencer has overcome some severe medical challenges over the past several years. We thought we would be lucky to have him for an extra month,” Powers continued in the long tribute to his dear companion. “Spencer was not ready to give up and with the love and positive energy sent to him by hundreds of thousands of fans, He beat the odds and gave us 28 months.”
Tragically, Penny died on Feb. 25, just eight days after Spencer’s death.
“A post I can’t believe I have to write,” Powers wrote of his second loss, alongside a collage of photos of Penny. “With great sadness, we are sharing the news of Penny’s passing yesterday. The enormous pain of losing our Spencer only a week ago is now compounded with the loss of our precious Penny.”
He continued of the 11-year-old pup, “Penny was the sweetest pup who liked to make a difference. Penny took Spencer’s passing very hard. We did everything we could to keep her busy to keep her mind off her loss. We have been watching Penny closely while she grieved to be sure we could help her navigate through her grief.”
Before the marathon in 2022, the Boston Athletic Association named Spencer the official dog of the 126th Boston Marathon. He was named the official dog during a ceremony at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston near the finish line. Spencer also received a medal.