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Spencer, the official dog of the Boston Marathon, dies after cancer battle

In January, the BAA honored Spencer with a portrait and a honorary medal.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Spencer, the golden retriever beloved for holding “Boston Strong” flags in his mouth along the iconic Boston Marathon route, has died after multiple bouts of cancer at his home in Holliston, his owner said Tuesday.

Spencer, who was 13 years old, was named the official dog of last year’s marathon. As his condition worsened, Spencer was honored last month by the Boston Athletic Association with a portrait and honorary medal at a ceremony at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.

“This guy was extremely special,” Rich Powers, 57, said by telephone Tuesday evening. “He went pain free, and he lived his life to the fullest. But, you know what? He deserved better. He deserved not to be sick at all, and he was a fighter through all of it.”


In a tweet, the Boston Marathon paid tribute to Spencer, calling his “spirit and determination” inspiring to all.

“We’ll miss you, and are proud to call you a friend and forever the Official Dog of the Boston Marathon,” the BAA wrote.

Spencer first went viral in a 2018 video of him decked out in a rain jacket covering his wavy coat, a double-sided flag in his mouth. But he had been a friendly fixture near Ashland State Park since 2014.

Spencer joined Powers’ family shortly after Powers lost another golden retriever. He knew Spencer was special right away.

“He felt the energy of everybody around him,” Powers said. “He wanted to give back, and he was a very giving dog — all he wanted to do was make me happy.”

In recent years, Spencer had some health scares, including two tumors. Powers said Spencer almost died in 2020.

“We thought we would be lucky to have him for an extra month,” Powers wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post. “He beat the odds and gave us 28 months.”


In September 2022, he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Powers said. The cancer was in his liver.

“Every day that Spencer was here with us he was beating the odds exponentially,” Powers wrote. “We have enjoyed sharing our special gift with you all. He has been an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people. He was an angel on earth.”

Powers said he first noticed a change in Spencer last week. Thursday was the first night he never climbed up the stairs to go to bed. He died on Friday.

Spencer spent his last day eating treats, drinking water, and enjoying visitors, Powers said. And on that day, Powers said, he gave his family a final gift, just before the veterinarian arrived.

“He started to shut down, and it was basically giving us the gift of saying you made the right choice, so you don’t have to second guess for the rest of your life. You made the right decision,” Powers recalled emotionally.

Up until Spencer’s last breath, Powers said, his family held him and told him they loved him.

In Spencer’s honor, Powers has set up a fund-raising page, which will help fund research for cancer in dogs, he said.

In a statement, the BAA extended its condolences “to the Powers family, sister Penny, and his many friends and admirers around the world.”

“We at the B.A.A. are saddened to learn of the passing of one of our dearest and most loyal Boston Marathon supporters, Spencer,” the association said. “Spencer annually encouraged participants in Ashland, embodying the unwavering spirit of Boston’s athletes as he showed up year after year regardless of the weather conditions.”


Powers said he simply loved spending time with Spencer as well as his 10-year-old sister Penny, who will still make an appearance at this year’s marathon.

But if he had one more thing to say to Spencer, Powers would say, “Thank you.”

“He was more than any of us deserve. He just gave so much,” Powers said. “All I can say is ‘thank you.’ Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

Matt Yan can be reached at Follow him @matt_yan12.