For some, dogs are more than pets—they’re family. When Thomas Neil Rodriguez found out that his 15-year-old labrador, Poh, had multiple tumors around his kidneys and possibly only days left to live, Rodriguez did something extraordinary: he took Poh on a road trip across America, and made an Instagram account to document Poh’s big adventure.
“I always wanted to bring Poh to the West Coast so he could swim in the Pacific Ocean,” Rodriguez tells TIME. “That turned into a seven-week trip. We ended up hitting 35 cities.”
Rodriguez, who is Jay Z’s former tour DJ, has a lot going on work-wise: he travels across the U.S. as DJ Neil Armstrong, the curator of the Dinner & A Mixtape series, and a brand ambassador for Adidas. Still, he found a way to take Poh to see America.
He tells First We Feast, “We wanted to make our time left with Poh as nice as possible. Poh got to dip his paws in the Pacific, and I got to eat and DJ my way across the country, with my fiancée and my best buddy.” Rodriguez and Poh returned home to NYC just six weeks ago. Rodriguez says that despite Poh’s illness, he handled the road trip amazingly well, and that the dog loved every minute of it—especially getting to dip his paws in the Pacific Ocean.
Here, Rodriguez chats about his food-fueled adventure across America with his best buddy, Poh.
You call Poh “the doggie Anthony Bourdain.” How’d he get that nickname?
Poh has gotten to travel and see more of America then most, just like Bourdain. Both of them are sandy-haired, and both would probably eat anything put in front of them… wait, thats more like Zimmern.
Poh has now been to In-N-Out and Shake Shack. Which burger does he prefer?
So we couldn’t give Poh In-N-Out because of his diet [chicken or turkey mixed with quinoa and rice], but he has had Shake Shack in his younger days, and Shake Shack has those Poochinis. So I’m pretty sure if Poh could speak, he would say: “Shake Shack all the way.”
What’s the best taco you guys ate on the road?
We didn’t do too many taco spots, but we did hit Mexican spots, trying to see if there is any proof to the idea that “there is no good Mexican spots in NYC.” The best place we ate was Kiki’s Restaurant in El Paso, Texas—the Brisket Machaca is something pretty unique that you will probably only be able to get there.
Saw that you two stopped at Randy’s Donuts in L.A. What are some other awesome donut shops you stopped at while on your adventure?
Voodoo Donut up in Portland and the new kid on the block Blue Star Donuts. Dynamo Donut in San Francisco. One of our favorites was Chicken and Donuts in Phoenix Arizona. They do double fried Korean-style chicken with their baked goods.
What was the first restaurant you, Poh, and your fiancée hit up once you were back in NYC?
If you follow my Instagram you know I can cook, so the first thing we wanted to do was eat a home-cooked meal. I do a pretty mean Thai-style pork ribs. Oddly enough, the first place we did go out to eat in NYC was the “secret artisanal donut spot ” Underwest Donuts located at the 24-our car wash on the West Side Highway. We went when it was raining and super early in the morning. I hear it’s usually really difficult to get them.
How is Poh doing now, health-wise?
When we left, Poh was given possibly just days to live. It’s been three months since we found out he had the tumors. He is still with us, alive and kicking, still trying to eat paper when we walk him in NYC. If there is sometime when we know it will be near the end Im pretty sure we are going to just let him eat whatever he wants. Shake Shack here we come!
What was Poh’s favorite thing he ate on his cross-country adventure?
Unfortunately, Poh is on a a very strict diet now. Any deviation will cause disruption in the form of really bad diarrhea. On top of that, he’s gotten extremely picky, and of course he just wants food that is terrible for him. We have to cook for him everyday, some type of protein—either chicken or turkey—mixed with quinoa and rice. He’ll usually only eat it if its a certain temperature. Yes, he is that much of a food snob! But when he was a youngster, he could eat anything and often did. I’m sad to say that his most favorite thing to eat is paper, especially expensive paper. He ate a couple of 100 Euro bills once.
How did you get into food? Tell me a bit about your Dinner & a Mixtape series.
I’m a total fat kid (internally). I started documenting my food and travels on Instagram as @DJNeilArmstrong, because I get to eat a lot of stuff not many people do. While Poh, myself, and my fiancée were doing a cross-country trip, we were also putting on Dinner & A Mixtape events across the U.S. The Dinner & A Mixtape series started in 2013. I’ll pair with a great restaurant with a forward thinking chef—Like chef Roy Choi and POT in LA—and my mixtapes will provide the soundtrack for the night. Often times I’ll have a brand new mixtape that is out, so the dinner is essentially a listening party for it. We’ll have unique music, and often the restaurant will create menu items just for the night. I’ve been able to do Dinner & A Mixtapes events all over the world—in Manila, the Philippines, Hong Kong, NYC, San Francisco. I also started food blogging for pommedesgarcons.com a few years ago.
Follow Poh at @pohthedogsbigadventure.