As anyone (including myself) who has watched their dog cross over Rainbow Bridge knows, the loss of a beloved K9 family member is heart wrenching. When that dog has also been your constant companion as an assistance dog, the loss is completely agonizing.
Tamandra Michaels, pet photographer extraordinaire and a favorite friend of Dog is Good, recently had to deal with such a loss. The passing of her constant companion and life changing dog, Borias, brought us all to tears. We often saw them at various events , Borias happily by her side, and it was evident that their relationship was filled with trust, love, respect, loyalty…all those things that truly make for an incredible friendship. Borias was a Hero in many ways, so much so that he was the inspiration behind this year’s special edition design, Everybody Needs A Hero Dog.
I wanted people to know more about this wonderful person and wonderful dog- how they grew as a team and how they each had such a positive impact on the other. The story of this friendship is a reminder of how dogs change and impact our lives and of how we can take those lessons to pass on to others in the world around us.
I hope you take time to read through Tamandra’s glimpse back on her journey through the past 11 years with an amazing dog that she beautifully shared with me. Take a moment after to give your own dog and those you love an extra hug.
Tamandra and Borias: A story of a great friendship.
I believe dogs are family that we choose for ourselves. Or, better yet, sometimes they choose us, and come to us for a reason. .. to teach us things, and sometimes, to change our lives forever.
I met Borias von Herzensfreude (loosely translates to “heart’s joy” in German) when he was a mere 4 weeks old. Searching for a puppy prospect to become one’s Assistance dog is no easy task. I had my heart set on a German Shepherd dog. I love training and competing in dog sports and a GSD is the ultimate package of a dog that can do it all.
Fate brought Borias and I together, for one incredible journey. Just about to give up for awhile in my search for the right puppy, I found a crumpled piece of paper on the floor of my car, with some breeder’s numbers written down, and all but one crossed off. So I called that number, and left a message. Later, my call was returned, and I learned all about this litter, and instantly hit it off with the breeder. (For the record, I only turn to breeders of working dogs for an Assistance dog prospect, and believe that’s the most responsible breeding). There had been a couple gals evaluating the litter for a possible Cadaver SAR dog, and in doing extensive tests, mentioned that this big male would be an excellent Assistance dog, as he was super mellow, and even a bit on the lazy side. The breeder was thrilled, as she dreamt of one day having one of her pups have that noble profession. And here I was calling her that same day! I knew in my heart that this was to be my future partner.
From the first moment bringing him home, he behaved like that was exactly where he was supposed to be, with none of that fussing puppies usually do. I set about socializing and training him right away, and what a blast that was! His brains clearly matched his cuteness (and as he grew up, breathtakingly beautiful). His temperament was top notch. He was astonishingly comfortable with strange sights, loud noises, and navigating with a wheelchair. In training, I had boned up on all the modern methods, and began clicker training behaviors he would do as my Assistance partner. He was like a sponge, learned to retrieve my dropped wallet in three short sessions. Too smart for his own good, really…he then got creative, and to get a reward, he would unzip my backpack and take my wallet out, to hand to me at random! Or he would “accidentally” nose it off the corner of the table at a restaurant, pick it up proudly with a glint in his eye. One time, we were at a market, and I had put my wallet on my lap, but somehow I hadn’t realized it fell somewhere, and I exclaimed aloud “Where’s my wallet??”…suddenly my boy was pulling me towards the end of the aisle we had gone down, and found it. Dog is Good : )
Life’s a Party
Borias was a major personality from day one, and as his personality developed and emerged, he became a dog that made everyone take notice. Quite a canine character, Borias had an overabundance of personality. He was quite opinionated and vocal, barking if he was happy, excited, annoyed, or even frustrated. If I accidentally ran over a toe, he would wail and scream as if he was going to die, then suddenly start “yelling” at me. People would giggle at this, entertained. It was very clear that he was bawling me out.
I do favor a bit of naughtiness in a dog. Sure, an Assistance dog must have manners, and a certain level of behavior while in public working. But I see no reason to make a subservient robot that’s afraid to be a dog. Borias was allowed to be who he was, with some constraints, and a little give and take
I found his talent for ‘dancing’ to be the most endearing thing ever. People would be so delighted to watch us at a party, go on to a dance floor to dance together. Nothing choreographed mind you, just freestyle, leash in jaws, bouncing and twisting and bucking and twirling- Hilarity.
We became so incredibly tuned into each other- a great team, true partners. Another much loved activity was his pulling my wheelchair at top speed. While we lived in LA, we would trek from Santa Monica to Venice via the boardwalk. There’s a certain feeling of unbridled freedom when you’re at the end of a leash with a dog galloping fast, wind your face. I think it might be similar to the kind riding on the Black Stallion on the beach in said movie. Euphoria. We called it “zoom-zoom”. Borias would have ears cocked back, using all his senses to be connected to me, despite being in front.
The perks of having a very cool canine are many. He was great for meeting celebrities, as the ones who were dog lovers would approach me, and we could connect over that, rather than the person’s fame. I loved that. He’s met quite a few of the glitterati. He accompanied me to a U2 concert at 9 months old (I stuffed his ears with cotton, and was far back), and has met Bono a few times. Eddie Vedder took a shine to him, and has seen him perform. Once he made himself a “dogstacle” getting in the way of former President Clinton, which was rather embarrassing, but he got a kick out of it. He was a veteran of Xena conventions, and Comic-con. He’s even had a smooch and snuggle with the great Betty White, and I loved how she lavished him with all this attention, (but took a few seconds to say “oh hi” to me ). Everyone admired him, could plainly see that he and I shared a very special relationship. He was all heart.
Eleven years passed by in a blink of an eye. The little patch of grey on his muzzle grew around his mouth, his chest deepened, and a re-herniated disc caused some mild mobility challenges. Supplements, acupuncture, and routine deep tissue massage helped him tremendously, but I began to see slowing down happening much faster than I expected. He had taken care of me his whole life, and now it was my turn to take care of him. I dreaded something happening to him, having lost all my previous dogs prematurely. When he suddenly had blood in an eye, I panicked when I researched the symptoms and found they immediately described cancer. Specialists could not figure out what was causing it, but tests showed no sign of the dreaded disease. When he went blind on Christmas day, as well as near deaf, I rushed him to another specialist for an MRI and Ultrasound. He had an ear infection, which was affecting his energy and daily routine, blamed the sight loss on his bad eye, and determined that Glaucoma was developing. He would likely have to have the eye removed at some point.
When his eye vet suddenly resigned, I made an appointment with his fifth specialist, who got my hopes up that it may just be possible that his eye has a clot, and it can be fixed. Drops for Glaucoma were prescribed, but something went terribly wrong, and though he had never been in pain with the eye, suddenly he was in agony, and it was looking horrible. It had to come out, and fast. Only problem was, I was now deep in debt over all the previous vet bills, so a donation campaign was launched. I was so touched at just how many rallied to support my beloved boy. Everyone from the photography community, the local LGBT community, and entertainment industry all pitched in for his surgery and care. I had a small army of moral support.
The morning after leaving him for his surgery, I got a call from the vet. X-rays revealed lesions on his lungs. I remember not being able to breathe through the rest of the call- where the vet even asked if I wanted to go through with the surgery, given we could only have a few months left ! I hung up, and fell apart. After going through all of this and having been told previously they could not find cancer- suddenly it had now metastasized in his lungs. It was not fair, yet I was determined to fight. We had an amazing holistic vet, and we would do what it took to give him as long as possible, and have quality of life.
Borias was back to being himself right after his eye came out, feeling much better and out of pain. He had a slight, dry cough, and seemed at random to nearly faint, get lightheaded. But he was doing really well…until one day he really crashed. Alarmed, I rushed him back to the Specialty Hospital, and tests showed he was bleeding in his abdomen. Hemangiosarcoma. The most aggressive, hideous cancer there is for dogs. A very fast killer. I slept on the floor with him, cooked for him, and friends brought me food so I didn’t have to leave him. I felt even closer to him, if that was possible. A few days he had upswings, and we would go to his favorite places- the beach, and his favorite, Balboa Park. He was cantankerous, joyful, trying to ‘dance’ still, despite my urgings to take it easy. He had a huge smile on his face. We spent one perfect afternoon together, watching the world go by. I was hopeful that maybe this was a little upswing, and there would be more good days to come.
We walked around the block at sunset, and I took even more photos of him. I noticed a little wobbling as we came back in the house…and when he coughed up some pink goop, my blood went cold. I knew that was not a good sign. Soon after, he was having difficulty breathing. In a flood of tears, I made a plea on Facebook, I couldn’t get him up to go in the car. Some dear friends rushed to our aid, and Borias was carefully lifted in a blanket-sling into our car, and off to an ER. I wanted so badly to have him transition from at home, but no vets would come at the time it was. I had no choice, I wasn’t about to let him suffer. I didn’t want to say goodbye, yet, either. How was I going to carry on without Borias by my side ? How ironic I had on his t-shirt…Dog is Good’s Hero Dog tee, that used his silhouette for, and the words described him perfectly. A fitting tribute.
I sat on the floor, and he had his leg over mine, and his head rested on my ankle, as my tears flowed into his ruff. “You’ve been such a GOOD dog…” I whispered to him. “I love you so much”. The vet started the process, and I felt him go limp. But he heaved in more breath, a couple times… his heart was so big, it took two doses for him to leave me. My heart literally felt like it was breaking in a million pieces, and it hurt with a pain so deep and primal…
I now roll with his collar secured to my wheelchair, and my first tattoo is his real paw print, over my heart, with a little of his ashes. A permanent tribute to one very amazing, special boy, who has blessed me in so many ways, forever changed my life, and touched many. It’s been an adventure and an honor to be his companion on this earth. He will forever hold my heart in his paws.