Owner Creates Tragic 'Bucket List' for Terminally Ill Golden Retriever Puppy

A pet owner is compiling a tragic "bucket list" for their puppy, after discovering their golden retriever has less than a year to live.

Mike Lauer and his girlfriend, Jessie, had always dreamed of getting a dog, and after growing up with goldens they had their heart set on the breed.

Lauer, from Philadelphia, told Newsweek the pair picked up their new pet, Willow, at the beginning of the year, but soon after they realized something was wrong.

"Two months into having her, we noticed that Willow had diarrhea and was vomiting. We had given her new treats and she'd been playing outside and eating leaves and grass," Lauer said.

Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy
Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy. On the bucket list are trips to the beach, snow, mud and lots of love. Mike Lauer

The vet put it down to a "puppy stomach," but after a bland diet failed to see any improvement they went back to the experts. After running numerous tests, they discovered her kidneys didn't seem to be functioning properly and she was rushed for treatment.

Lauer recalled: "Based on her state, they told us there was a chance she could die. When they took her into the back, we thought we were saying goodbye to her.

"Although she has recovered from her kidney infection, the damage done to the kidneys is such that she has been diagnosed with IRIS Stage III Chronic Kidney Disease."

Website VetBloom described the condition as "progressive" and "irreversible." Lauer said she has mostly returned to her normal "energetic and ravenous" self, but the prognosis is terminal.

He recalled the moment they received her diagnosis, saying: "It was shocking and heartbreaking to hear the news. The first day we brought her home, we joked that she'd live forever."

Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy.
Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy. The condition means it’s unlikely she’ll live more than a year. Mike Lauer

Lauer explained: "Based on conversations with the vet, as her kidney function continues to decrease, we'll likely see similar signs to when she was diagnosed.

"She'll have diarrhea and will vomit and will become lethargic to the point that she won't want to eat. After our follow up visit recently, the vet said Willow's numbers have improved slightly, but her life expectancy is still about a year."

According to the American Kennel Club, golden retrievers are expected to live between 10 and 12 years.

Faced with the heart-wrenching prospect of losing their beloved dog so soon, Lauer decided to create a bucket list to let Willow experience the best this world has to offer.

Lauer shared a photo of his adorable pup to Reddit's goldenretrievers forum in March, saying: "Any suggestions for bucket list items to ensure she gets the most out of her short life?"

People fielded numerous suggestions, as Lauer confirmed he has a full itinerary, adding: "One Redditor offered to give their kidney to Willow, so I may want to take them up on that!"

Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy.
Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy. Her owners are compiling a bucket list for her short time on earth. Mike Lauer

He said: "The thought to create a bucket list came to me soon after we received the call that her life expectancy is about a year. We'd been told that she wouldn't have a long life but getting a concrete amount of time put it in perspective for us.

"I wanted to get feedback from others who've had dogs for a long time and find out what their pets enjoyed most during their life. We've only had Willow a few months, so she's been inside waiting to be fully vaccinated before getting the chance to explore the world.

"We don't have a set number of experiences yet. Ideally, we'll be able to create a list and check off those items and she'll still live longer. I was overwhelmed by the number of responses the post received. Many of the items on her list include outdoor activities like a trip to the beach, hiking, camping, boating, jumping in snow, diving in mud, etc. Places with lots of great smells, as well as car rides with the windows down."

Food was a key theme, with people suggesting ice cream, McDonald's and steaks, although Lauer confirmed Willow was on a strict diet for her kidneys.

However, he acknowledged she may get a "feast" if she deteriorates to a point of no return.

Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy.
Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy. The couple noticed Willow seemed unwell after a few months. Mike Lauer

He surmised some trips in the diary, saying: "We're going to the beach soon, where she'll be able to run freely. She loves running up steps, so we're going to take her to the Philadelphia Art Museum and let her run up those steps like Rocky.

"Other items include giving Willow lots of time with us, sleeping in our bed, visiting her canine best friends, and getting an abundance of pets from strangers."

And their attitude has changed towards Willow, as Lauer explained they were more lenient with her now, knowing they have such little time with her.

He said: "Now, any time she misbehaves, I think about how she may not have a long life and tell myself I can't be mad at her.

"When she's gnawing on floorboards, barking incessantly, or refusing to walk, we remind ourselves that she's still a puppy and being trained. We've become a little lenient with regards to discipline because of her condition."

Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy.
Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy. The vet diagnosed Willow with IRIS Stage III Chronic Kidney Disease. Mike Lauer

He had some advice for all pet owners, as he stressed how important insurance is.

Lauer revealed: "I've seen a lot of instances where people have to make hard decisions because the financial burden of an illness becomes too much. Even if you don't have to use it, it's better to have it just in case.

"Knowing that Willow has a shorter lifespan than expected makes me want to treat each day like it's the greatest day of all time. It can be difficult to do that because of simple daily routines and limitations on travel.

"But something I've been telling myself for a while is that it's important to find beauty in the mundane. Even if it's just walking her or letting her gnaw on my hand, each moment needs be treated like it's special.

"There will be a day when we won't have Willow, anymore. Until then, we're going to treat each day with her like it's our last," he said.

Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy.
Photo of Willow the Golden Retriever puppy. The puppy was taken home by Mike and Jessie at the start of the year. Mike Lauer