“We could stay home and wait for the inevitable or we could go enjoy life as much as possible,” Thomas Neil Rodriguez tells PEOPLE
They say every dog has its day, and Poh is making the most of his with the help of his owner Thomas Neil Rodriguez.
The 15-year-old yellow Labrador’s kidneys are failing, and he has a softball-size tumor on his liver and multiple tumors around his kidneys, but his adventurous spirit is amazingly intact – thanks in part to Rodriguez’s insistence that his beloved dog live his remaining days to the fullest.
“The doctor told us it may only be a matter of days, so we thought we could stay home and wait for the inevitable or we could go enjoy life as much as possible,” Rodriguez, who lives in New Jersey with his fiancée Yuko Ogino, tells PEOPLE.
“I always wanted to bring Poh to the West Coast so he could swim in the Pacific Ocean,” Rodriguez says. “That turned into a seven-week trip. We ended up hitting 35 cities.”
Rodriguez, who adopted Poh from the North Shore Animal League in Long Island, New York, when he was just 8 weeks old, packed up the car, and the trio drove 12,000 miles across the country, making meaningful stops along the way. Rodriguez and his fiancée documented every moment on an Instagram account they created just for Poh’s big adventure.
“Fortunately, he has no problem in the car,” Rodriguez says. “By the end of the trip, we had figured out the right supplements to give him, the right meal to give him, and he loved it as far as I could tell.”
Rodriguez – who is also known as DJ Armstrong – is Jay Z’s former tour DJ, and he was able to incorporate his Dinner & A Mixtape series into the trip.
“I partner up with great restaurants and provide the soundtrack for the night,” he says. “I would bring Poh to some of the events because people would want to meet him.”
Poh’s favorite place to visit by far was San Diego, California, where he finally got the chance to take a dip in the ocean.
“The second we got in there, his energy changed,” Rodriguez says. “There’s something healing about the water. He was standing in the waves, and he absolutely loved it.”
Rodriguez says that despite Poh’s ailments, he handled the road trip amazingly well.
“During the trip, people would often say, ‘Oh, he looks tired, can he make it? Is it good for him?’ Every dog is different, every situation is different, but I think he loved it. When we were on the road, of course he’d be tired – he’s old – but the second he got out of the car, he would go explore and want to see and smell things and be outside, instead of just lying down around somewhere.
“Some of the beaches would be far, it would be a good half-mile walk to get to the water, and I would have to carry him. But after being in the water, he would run back to the car! As silly as it might sound, I think the trip was really great for his spirit,” Rodriguez says.
Now that he’s home, Rodriguez has continued to bring Poh on mini adventures around town.
“I brought him to the Brooklyn Bridge, and he was trying to jump out of his cart and see what was going on,” he says.
Rodriguez says there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from Poh’s fighting spirit.
“A lot of people are ready to give up. I think some people might have already put their dog down at this point, but he still has these bursts of energy. If Poh has taught me anything, it’s that we can’t give up – we gotta live,” he says.
Rodriguez adds: “You have to make the most of your time while you’re alive.”