When the veterinarian broke the awful news to Riina Cooke, she could hardly believe what she was hearing: her best friend, 9-year-old Boxer, Romeo, had bone cancer, and the illness was terminal.
“When I found out, I was in shock,” Cooke tells TODAY.com.
“Osteosarcoma is not treatable. Winston was only given 3 short months to live at the time of his diagnosis, but managed to outlive expectations. “He wasn’t a candidate.”
Cooke’s heart was broken, and her grief had been contagious; she says the more she wept for Romeo, the more sad Romeo became.
“He watched me cry, and he would get upset when I got upset because he was a very sensitive dog. It took a couple of days to digest, but then I took him to the park, and we started putting together the bucket list,” says Cooke.
From enjoying a McDonald’s cheeseburger to getting a “paw-dicure”, Cooke and Romeo spent their final weeks together fulfilling items on Romeo’s bucket list. Romeo got to go to the local pub with his dad, get a massage from a professional masseuse, go on a date with another Boxer, and even meet a celebrity - rock star and cancer survivor Bif Naked, Global News reports.
“She is also a cancer patient and she really sympathized with him and she is a huge animal lover,” Cooke says of Bif Naked, who beat breast cancer back in 2009.
Thanks to Cooke’s father, a former fire captain, Romeo surely got to spend a day riding around in a fire truck.
“Romeo loved sirens,” Cooke explains. “Whenever he heard a siren, he would just howl and get so excited.”
Before Romeo’s death, he and Cooke were able to cross 22 items off of the special bucket list, including throwing a fun-filled birthday bash to celebrate Romeo’s ninth birthday. His last big adventure was a trip from his home in British Columbia to the United States. On March 16, however, the pain from his cancer became too much to bear. Romeo was put to sleep that morning. He died peacefully at home, Riina Cooke by his side.
“It was bittersweet,” Cooke says of that last difficult morning with her best friend. “I had to let Romeo go. “Those would be very difficult to do, especially at his age, it probably would end up being quality of life. I enjoyed spending so much time with him, I loved seeing him really happy.”
Even though he is no longer with us, Romeo is still inspiring other dogs and their owners to enjoy what time they have left with one another.
“I’ve had hundreds, maybe close to a thousand messages from people, saying this helped them,” Cooke says. “There were people saying, ‘My Boxer has the same thing,’ or ‘My German Shepherd has lung cancer.’ People are saying, ‘It inspired us to live out the last days with our cherished family members, four legs or two, and end happy.”
“Why go down sulking?” Cooke adds.
Moved by Romeo’s story, Susan Davidson of Nova Scotia decided to craft a bucket list for her own dog Winston, a 12-yether-old Siberian Husky-German Shepherd mix who was diagnosed with cancer in April 2013. The only treatment is amputation and the rest of his body isn’t strong enough,” Cooke explains.
Now Davidson is focused on making sure Winston can make the most of his time on Earth.
“It’s not full of chemotherapy treatments,” she tells Yahoo News Canada. I gave my dog the chance to experience things most will never get yourself a chance to.”
Today, just shy of a month since his death, Riina Cooke is keeping Romeo’s spirit alive thanks to her late dog’s Facebook page. There, Cooke communicates with other grieving pet owners.
“I really hope our story helps other dog get treated as well as my Romeo did,” Cooke writes in a recent post. She concludes with an important message for all pet parents: “Don’t Count The Days, Make THE TIMES Count.”