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Owner takes terminally ill dog on bucket-list adventure to make happy memories

When one beloved dog received a terminal diagnosis, his owner was devastated — but wanted to make the most of his pet's final days.
/ Source: TODAY

When one beloved dog received a terminal diagnosis, his owner was devastated — but wanted to make the most of his pet's final days.

Thomas Neil Rodriguez, a DJ from New York City who was told 16-year-old Poh might only have "days" to live, set out to make sure his canine friend spent the rest of his time enjoying landmark destinations across the country, and began chronicling the happy moments on Instagram.

"I've gotten a lot of messages like, 'This reminds me of my dog,' and, 'One day, I hope I get to do this with my dog,' and, 'I lost my dog recently, and I wish I could have done this with my dog,'" Rodriguez, 40, told

Back in December 1999, Rodriguez — who goes by the stage name DJ Neil Armstrong — adopted Poh from the North Shore Animal League shelter in Port Washington, New York, where he instantly fell for the 8-week-old pup with a mischievous side. "He chose [me], at the end of the day," he said of Poh, believed to be half pit bull and half Labrador retriever. "Very loving, very loyal."

Poh had been healthy for most of his life, but his owner got terrible news just weeks into 2015, when he'd returned from a tour of Asia to learn his dog had kidney failure.

"[About a month later, a vet] found a softball-sized tumor on his liver and multiple tumors around his kidneys. Essentially, at that point, that's when he got kind of a time limit on his life," Rodriguez said. "I asked, 'What are we saying here? Do I have a year with him?' And the doctor's reply was, 'Well, he may have days [to live].'"

With the help and support of Rodriguez's fiancée, Yuko Ogino, he decided to take Poh on the road for Rodriguez's tour and document Poh's travels through an Instagram account, @pohthedogsbigadventure.

"I just didn't want to leave his side, so, I brought him with me," said Rodriguez, who added that the couple travels with an intravenous drip and other medications for Poh. "What started as a single stop in Phoenix, Arizona, turned into a 35-city, seven-week tour of the United States."

Dated May 5, part of the caption for the first post of Poh's Instagram account reads, "My parents found out that I have a couple of very large tumors growing in my abdomen which are inoperable. So my dad @djneilarmstrong decided to give me a bucket list trip across the good old US of A [traveling] from #nyc all the way to the west coast, from sea to shining sea."

Thankfully, Poh has lived beyond the most extreme prognosis of mere days, taking in the country's best sights, sounds and smells for almost three months. Along the way, Poh has basked in the lights of Times Square, cruised the Vegas strip, stoically posed with D.C. monuments, gotten his kicks on Route 66, and gawked at Seattle's Space Needle.

Soon after the couple launched the Instagram account, word spread about the traveling pooch who would be frolicking across the country, and thousands of followers joined his journey from afar.

As of Friday afternoon, Poh's Instagram account had almost 44,000 followers. That total was closer to 5,000 as of about a week ago, but because this story has received attention from international media outlets and shared on social media in recent days, Poh's become quite the popular pup.

"I guess Poh's story is one that resonates greatly with pet owners," Rodriguez said. "It's a feel-good story."

Rodriguez suspected that Poh's favorite destination was the original dog beach in San Diego, California. Rodriguez captured video of that moment in an Instagram post dated March 18.

"The initial goal [of the trip] was just to get him into the Pacific," he said. "It was pretty amazing. Poh loved the water. His energy was through the roof that day. When he first got there, he was scared of the water, because he kind of didn't know what was going on, but by the end of the trip that day, he was barreling head-first into the water."

Back in New York, Rodriguez says he can see how Poh has appreciated these last few weeks together.

"I think, for sure, unequivocally, he appreciated it, and being on the road," he added. "Compared to how he was at home, initially, when we left, versus how he was on the road, it was like night and day."

In a final plea, Rodriguez encouraged fans who have been following Poh or just learning about his story to adopt a pet of their own.

"What I hope that people are inspired to do is, if they have the means and the time, go out and get a shelter dog," Rodriguez said. "There's unconditional love waiting for everybody out there."

Follow writer Chris Serico on Twitter.