BOSTON — Less than 24 hours before 30,000 runners would board buses to the starting line of the Boston Marathon, a different type of excited energy pulsed through Boston Common.
Will, Sammy, Mandy, Cather, Lucy, Frank, Flynn and Lou were there. So were Kona, River, Miko, Clementine, Lily, Maple, Cedar and Chester.
They were not wearing high-tech sneakers or racing bibs. They had four legs each, were panting wildly and drooling just a bit.
They were some of the 250 or so dogs that descended on a public park in downtown Boston to honor two golden retrievers that became inextricably linked to the Boston Marathon. Spencer, a therapy dog who became the Boston Marathon’s official race dog, died Feb. 17 at age 13 from an inoperable cancer.
Spencer gained fame as an enthusiastic spectator at Mile 3 of the marathon course who dutifully held a Boston Strong flag as runners stopped for photos. He became so popular that runners sometimes lined up for the chance, adding seconds, if not minutes, to their times. But no matter: It was Spencer.
A week after Spencer died, Penny, one of his litter mates’ offspring, also died, from hemangiosarcoma, a type of cancer.
“Did he stay for her or did she stay for him?” Rich Powers, their owner, wondered. “They were so bonded.”
Powers and his wife, Dorrey, have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support in the weeks since their dogs died. Losing Spencer was difficult enough, Rich Powers said. “Losing Penny threw us to a level of sadness we weren’t prepared for.”
The response was immediate and global. They have received cards; thousands of dollars in donations to the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit based in Colorado; visits from local dogs; and a surprise in the form of Sunday’s event, which was organized by MA Golden Meetups as a tribute to Spencer and Penny.
On Sunday, what was once expected to be 20 dogs turned into a full field of fur.
“The only thing better than one golden is a whole bunch of goldens,” Deb Litterer of Rhode Island said.
She added: “What I’m surprised about is how good they are all being today. They are all being therapy dogs.”
The dogs, some of whom were official therapy dogs like Spencer, were on their best behavior, and obliged the many photo requests. There were endless refrains of “oh my God” followed by squeals.
There was a dog wearing a Boston Bruins hat, a dog wearing what looked like running shoes, dogs wearing rainbow harnesses, dogs wearing Golden Strong bandannas, dogs wearing rubber ducky raincoats despite the temperate weather and a dog wearing a Santa hat.
The scale of the group came into focus when volunteers started coordinating a group photo. Some small dogs in the area, including a Shih Tzu named Miko, looked deeply confused.
At one point, a photographer shouted, “If all the dogs could look at me,” to laughs from the crowd. Some dogs seemed to pay attention.
Rich and Dorrey Powers sat at the center. Rich Powers held the Boston Strong flag that Spencer once carried and a photograph of the two dogs. Rich Powers was wearing a navy blue raincoat, the same one he put on Spencer when they cheered in the cold rain at the 2018 Boston Marathon. They were both beaming, even if their eyes appeared a bit misty.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I think I can safely say that Spencer and Penny have impacted millions now.”
Stephanie Ormond of Fresno, Calif., came to the event without a dog. Her nails were painted with logos to match the course. A broken heart for Heartbreak Hill at Mile 20 of the course, a Citgo sign, the Boston Marathon unicorn and, on her thumb, the unmistakable image of Spencer holding his flag. She said that she would be running the race the next day and that “Spencer was my favorite part of the marathon.”
It was a sentiment shared by many who mingled in the park wearing Boston Marathon jackets from years past.
On Monday, about 30,000 runners will not see Spencer or Penny on the course near Ashland, Mass. But Rich Powers will be there.
The Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the marathon, offered to take him to the start or the finish as a special guest, he said, but he declined.
He wanted to be where he always was. At Mile 3, on the runners’ right, with Spencer’s flag, wearing the blue rain jacket that once protected his dog from the elements.