BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - You can't put a price tag on the love between a man and his dog.
And no one knows that better than Scott Clare, who traveled across the country to Cincinnati and spent thousands of dollars to make sure his best friend, Buck-O, had a chance at a happy, healthy life.
After Clare's wife passed away, he taught himself how to love again, but this time with a four-legged companion.
"He makes me laugh and smile every day," said Clare, a Bakersfield, California resident, about his dog. "He's just a crack up, he's lots of fun."
Clare adopted the now-14-month-old yellow Labrador retriever who is named after baseball player Buck O'Neil, a reflection of his love for baseball.
When Clare took Buck-O to get neutered, the doctors noticed something was different with the puppy.
The pooch was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called tricuspid (heart) valve dysplasia and frequent ventricular arrhythmias. The irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) result in high heart rates that put Buck-O at risk for developing heart enlargement, decreased ability of the heart to contract, and possible sudden death.
"My choices were to spend a lot of money or hang on to him until he has a horrible death and I wasn't going to do that," said Clare.
In Clare's mind, the only option was to take Buck-O to MedVet Cincinnati where he could undergo ventricular ablation, a form of surgery that is only performed at the facility in Fairfax, Ohio by Kathy Wright.
Wright performs similar procedures on animals from across the country at the Red Bank Road pet clinic. However, Buck-O's case was unique due to his type of arrhythmia, according to veterinary cardiologist Dawn Webber.
"We have quite a few pet owners who travel from more than 500 miles for procedures," said Webber who says the 2-year-old MedVet facility has worked on pets from as far away as Canada and Alaska. “People are getting to a point now with their relationships with their animals that they want to seek specialty care if it's available when a dog has cancer or needs surgery.
"It takes a dedicated owner to put forth that type of commitment and love toward an animal."
So, on June 9, Clare and Buck-O made the 2,300-mile trek from Bakersfield, making many friends along the way, both in person and online.
The two have documented their emotional journey on social media. Buck-O has a Facebook page that’s been liked more than 3,900 times as of Wednesday. He even has his own website.
Hi- My name is Buck-O...
I am a happy member of Scott Clare's family and both lucky and not so lucky...
You see, I was born with a defective heart (that's the not so lucky part).
My family (here's the lucky part) love me so much that they are doing everything possible to keep me around. That includes a ground-breaking (for dogs) medical procedure called 'cardial ablation.'
Clare said people just seem to relate to his story and are touched by what he and Buck-O are going through together.
"I think they liked the story, the story of him being the first ever," said Clare, who admits it’s hard for someone not to fall in love with his furry pal. "And look at his face, he has a beautiful face."
During their trip, the two stayed in off-the-grid places like St. George, Utah and Vail Pass, Colorado. They also made pit stops at tourist traps like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, had a photo shoot in Louisville and met dozens of one-time strangers along the way.
They even made a special trip to the John "Buck" O'Neil Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
On June 14, after five days on the road, they arrived in the Queen City.
"Good evening! We've made it to Cincinnati!" Clare posted on Facebook. "Buck-O checks into the vet tomorrow at 8:30 AM. I will be able to visit Buck-O throughout the day."
A handful of freak happenings, such as a power outage and equipment issues, actually delayed the procedure for several days.
While it would have been easy to become frustrated by the situation, Clare never displayed such emotions on Facebook, where he continued to post his and Buck-O's exploits in and around Cincinnati.
They met University of Cincinnati student Brandon Sims, who wore a "Follow Buck-O" T-shirt, at Mt. Echo Park. They played Frisbee in their room at Motel 6. They made countless strangers smile everywhere they went.
But the fun times and photo ops did little to detract from why the duo hit the road in the first place. And on June 30, Buck-O successfully underwent the nearly eight-hour, $10,000 surgery.
"Buck-O is out and recovering in ICU. With a normal heart beat!!" Clare wrote later that day. But his pup still had a ways to go.
The dog spent the next few days recovering in a kennel at the medical facility.
Thankfully his buddy was there with a handful of treats for him when he woke up.
Weber said the procedure went as expected and she believes long-term outlook for Buck-O looks promising.
"The procedure was successful. We were able to cure his arrhythmia to the prognosis for his cardiac disease is great," she said. "He should live a long, normal, healthy Labrador life."
The two of them headed back to California on July 3, nearly a month after hitting the road. But not before thanking the staff at MedVet.
Since then, Clare reports Buck-O is doing well. He goes to the vet for weekly checkups so he can make sure his heart beat stays regular.
On July 22, Clare (and Buck-O) posted on his Facebook page that all is well.
"Good evening Buck-O followers! I am sorry to have been absent with updates on Buck-O and how he is doing, it has been a crazy month trying to get re-adjusted and back into the swing of things," the post begins. "Buck-O is doing great! I have still been a bit hesitant on letting him exercise to his potential. I think I will be a little more at ease once the 24 hour heart monitor test is complete."
While their cross-country trek may have come to an end, Clare continues to keep Buck-O's growing fan base up to date on his condition.
You can follow Buck-O's progress on his Facebook page.
WCPO reporter Julie O'Neill contributed to this report