The wilderness and people of Tofino play a prominent role in an Edmonton man’s epic eulogy for his beloved canine companion, Princeton.
Terry Fong met and adopted Princeton in 1999 and said the spry one-year-old quickly became a faithful helper on his large scale chicken farm.
“The name of my farm is named Black Dog Farm. It was named for Princeton,” Fong told the Westerly News. “The shelter gave me the name Prince and I didn’t really care for that, so I thought that I would call him Princeton and make it sound a little more dignified.”
Princeton loyally lived up to the honour of having the farm named after him for over a decade, though Fong recalled the harrowing moment he realized their lives were about to change as his best friend was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.
“It was horrifying,” he said. “I’m sitting in the veterinarian’s office and I’m looking at my friend who I’ve had for going on 13 years; to say that he won’t be around the following year, that was a very hard thing to hear,” he said.
He said the vet explained Princeton had aggressive bone cancer.
“Even with the most advanced treatments at the time, including removing his right rear leg and six rounds of chemo, he was only given a year to live…I kind of expected him to defy the odds but, just in case he didn’t, I wanted him to see as much of the rest of the country as he could and that’s how we began to travel,” he said.
“I decided, at that point, because Princeton always had a fire within him, that as long as that fire remained with him, I would do all that I could. I simply did everything that I could for him and he defied the odds. I admit that it wasn’t cheap but I have no regrets with what I did and I know when he passed he had no regrets of what we did either.”
He said Princeton’s “eyes lit up whenever we went camping,” so the wilderness played a large part in their travels.
“I thought about what he liked to do most and that was to travel. So we loaded up the camper van, I shut down my farm for various times and we travelled off and on for the next five years. He passed away when he was 18. It wasn’t from cancer and at this point he’s known as the longest known survivor of canine bone cancer,” he said.
He added that the longest trip they spent away was a two-month span touring the West Coast, explaining that he had not visited Tofino in about 12 years, but knew it was a place Princeton would enjoy.
The pair made their first visit to the community in 2014, staying for about two weeks.
“I think it was tranquil for him. It was peaceful. It was something that wasn’t rushed,” he said. “He could walk along the beach, he could feel the water on his feet of course and it just seemed to be very much a holistic experience for the both of us. We felt at peace, we were calm and the people that we met there are still friends to this day.”
One of those friends is Tofino resident Cam Shaw who had agreed to take photos of the pair on Long Beach. Shaw recalled Fong catering to Princeton’s wishes, going wherever the dog wanted to go and he told the Westerly that day’s photoshoot started a strong bond.
“The perspective that Terry had was not owner and animal, the perspective that Terry had was, ‘We’re two best friends, I have the means, he has the needs and we’re going to do everything we can,’” Shaw said.
“I like taking photos and stuff like that, but the reason I helped out Terry is because I just, at the time, felt it was the right thing to do and, I think, when you live your life just trying to do the right thing, it leads you to opportunities that you might not encounter if you were only looking out for yourself.”
Shaw said he and his wife Kim enjoyed visiting with Fong and Princeton whenever the travelling companions came to town.
“The relationship that Kim, Terry, Princeton and I had was just really special. Every time he would come out here, we’d go out and have meals and just laugh our heads off with Terry’s entertaining way that he tells stories,” he said.
“Terry is a very thoughtful and measured person with an incredibly dry sense of humour. He just speaks what’s on his mind in a very simple way, but there’s so many hilarious, complex undertones to everything that he says.”
Fong said he and Princeton saw “a tremendous amount of places” and met amazing people as they explored the West Coast, taking boat tours and learning the history of the region, leading Tofino to become “our favourite” of all the destinations they enjoyed during their travels.
“When he was on the beaches, after he ran, he would just sit down and he would watch the water and he could stare at that for hours and there was a look of peace and contentment on his face,” Fong said of Princeton. “I would just open up the van door and he would run out and he would run along the beaches, or hop I guess you’d say, for 15 or 20 minutes and then he would lay down and he would just watch the water and the waves and he could do that for hours and I could tell that he was very content and that he had found peace.”
The pair returned for the final time in 2015. Princeton passed away the following year. Fong recalled their last night in Tofino.
“It was stormy and we went down to Incinerator Rock again. We were the only car there and we stayed right until the gates closed and Princeton and I just sat on the beach in the rain, looked at the ocean and I think he knew that was the last time we were coming there,” he said. “I wrote in the book that me and Princeton will return there together when our ashes are spread on the beaches of Tofino.”
Fong had never written a book before, but set out to write about the experiences he and Princeton shared and eventually found a lengthy memoir in his hands.
“When Princeton was still alive, I told him that I would write about our travels and his experiences with cancer but it would not be shared, it would just be for me and him. Over the course of two years, every morning, seven days a week, I wrote,” he said. “After 25 months, I had 120,000 words and I decided to get it edited and the people who did the editing said, ‘You really should try to get this published, this is something that really would relate with a lot of people.’”
He said many of the proofreaders were veterinarians who encouraged him to share his story to inspire hope in others.
“I think that a cancer diagnosis, whether it’s a human or a pet, doesn’t really mean that that is how it’s going to work out. Princeton was given a year after we amputated his right rear leg and gave him six rounds of chemo. He defied the odds,” he said. “Several proofreaders were vets and they said this is something that is going to give people hope for their dogs or pets that develop cancer. So, it went through the process from there and it ended up in a book and the book has done quite well.”
Fong’s book, ‘Princeton – A Love Story’ has since been published and is available online and in stores across Canada like Chapters as well as many independent bookstores, including Ucluelet’s Blackberry Cove Marketplace.
“This wasn’t done for a monetary gain, this was done for Princeton,” he said.
“Success, the way that I look at this, isn’t for books to be sold. The success for me is that I get emails from Australia and Europe thanking me for writing the book and giving people hope about their dog…People read about Princeton and they learn to love him and it gives them hope and it gives them comfort in caring with their pet as much as they can.”
Shaw helped design the book’s cover and touted the work as “a really funny, great read.”
“Often people write animal books to write a book about themselves,” Shaw said. “The book Princeton is about Princeton and Terry trying to keep up with him. It is the most unique perspective of any animal read you could have because it’s truly not about the man, it is truly about the dog and that’s what makes this story so special.”