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Spencer, golden retriever that captured hearts at Boston Marathon, recovering from surgery to remove tumor

Spencer, who makes regular appearance at the Boston Marathon clutching a "Boston Strong" flag between his teeth, had surgery on Monday to remove a tumor.The Henry Studio

Spencer, the unflappable golden retriever who has become a revered figure along the Boston Marathon course for his proud display of a “Boston Strong” flag that he clenched in his teeth, had surgery to remove a tumor and is recovering at his home in Holliston.

Doctors removed a mass along with his spleen on Monday, and his family is now anxiously awaiting the results of a pathology report that will indicate whether or not the tumor was malignant.

“If you get a tumor in the spleen area of a golden retriever, it’s usually not a good thing,” said Spencer’s owner, Rich Powers, in an interview on Thursday. “So we’re kind of on pins and needles hoping the report is good. He’s doing well at the moment, but we don’t know.”


Spencer with his medical team.The Henry Studio

Spencer, who is 12, shot to fame in 2018 when, in pouring rain and whipping winds he sat happily wearing Powers’ bright blue rain jacket and clutching a small wooden post with dueling blue and yellow flags. In each year following, runners have sacrificed a few precious seconds to dote on the pooch after spotting him near Mile 3 in Ashland State Park.

He has also captured the attention of local news stations, who without fail provide him a feature slot in their race coverage. Along with his sister, 9-year-old Penny, he is the subject of a popular social media account.

“Every time you turn on the news, people are terrible. It’s awful,” said Powers, trying to explain the fervor over his dog. “And then you get this little dog who just looks up all sweet and holds a little flag. It just makes you stop, and just for a second, the world isn’t as terrible. He’s a break from the awfulness.”

In keeping with his easygoing personality, Spencer was unfazed by the surgery, Powers said. Powers had noticed a change in the dog’s eating habits last week and quickly took him to the vet, where an MRI revealed the tumor. No bother for Spencer.


“He went in, tail wagging,” said Powers, 56. “When we picked him up, I thought they’d hand us this lifeless dog. But no, he just came out, like, ‘Let’s go!’ and pulling at the leash.”

This isn’t Spencer’s first health scare. Last year, doctors removed a 3 1/2-pound tumor from near his liver.

“It was bad,” said Powers. “You don’t expect them to live through something like that.”

Powers and his wife, Dorrey, got Spencer as a puppy in 2009, and he started attending the Marathon in 2015.They’ve always had golden retrievers in pairs, Powers explained. Before Spencer and Penny, it was Misty and Mandy.

Spencer was a friendly face at the annual race for a few years before he rose to fame.

“I think it was him in my raincoat through the pouring rain that did it,” said Powers.

On top of his annual Marathon duties, Spencer and Penny are both registered therapy dogs, making stops wherever a calming presence is requested. Last week they were at a vaccine clinic, where they stood by nervous kids as they got their shots.

Spencer and Penny.The Henry Studio

A Facebook account dedicated to the two pups, titled “Spencer and Penny,” has a loyal base of followers who adore regular “pupdates,” as Powers calls them. The page is flooded with pictures of the dogs standing side by side, each holding a sign.A recent post during Spencer’s stay with the vet features Penny holding a paper that reads “positive vibes needed.”


The page has grown so popular that Powers began making calendars of the pair at his followers’ request and donating most proceeds to canine cancer research. This year he’s already sold 775. A recent post during Spencer’s stay at the vet’s office features Penny holding a paper that reads “positive vibes needed.”

“We’re really hoping he makes it through this,” said Powers. “A lot of people love this guy, and his sister needs him.”

Andrew Brinker can be reached at Follow him @andrewnbrinker.