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Tamandra Michaels: A loving tribute to Borias, "The Heart Dog"

(Editor's note: For 11 years, community activist Tamandra Michaels was assisted by her K9 best friend Borias, "The Heart Dog." Borias was well-known around San Diego's LGBT community, always seen around town at Michaels' side. Borias died Aug. 16, and Michaels has penned the following tribute to him. Also, a fundraising drive is underway to help Michaels pay for some of Borias' medical expenses. Click HERE to contribute.)

On Aug. 16 at about 11 pm, Borias, "The Heart Dog," assistance dog, co-pilot and friend to both myself and our community, succumbed to an aggressive form of cancer. For 11 years, Borias has been by my side, through many an adventure. He had a tremendously loud voice, and an even bigger personality and heart.

Many of you have likely seen he and I together, out and about Uptown, and all over San Diego. A German Shepherd of such good looks and presence, people often remarked how beautiful he was, and laughed at his antics such as "dancing" with his leash, pretty much everywhere he went.

Then there was his voice, which gave voice to our efforts at LGBT equality activism. He had the Loudest Bark Ever. At rallies, protests and celebrations, there he was, making a joyful noise. Some of you may remember during the March for Equality, Borias set upon a couple discarded Prop H8 signs on the ground, gleefully shredding them. My heart swelled with pride, and the crowd cheered him on.

He was also on the front page of the North County Times, the day after Barack Obama was elected President, as part of the North County LGBT Coalition, where we had joined in to protest Prop 8 many days leading up to the fateful Election Day. He was a true ally.

Born March 8, 2001, our journey began when he was just 8 weeks old, as I taught him to be my assistance dog, as well as sports such as agility and Schutzhund. His name comes from the TV show "Xena: Warrior Princess," and in fact the executive producer (and husband to the star Lucy Lawless) chose his name. Before moving back to San Diego, Borias lived his first few years in L.A., hobnobbing with the glitterati. The list of celebs he's met and charmed is impressive, and ever the cultured canine, he's been with me to concerts, film premieres, Broadway shows, and four Comic-Cons.

Not only giving the gift of independence, Borias changed my life for the better in countless ways. Through the numerous health battles over the past years, he valiantly continued to care for me, and in the end, I was taking care of him. Despite being on a limited income, he received treatment at the Animal Healing Center, for a herniated disc from earlier injury, ensuing arthritis, acupuncture and massage kept him mobile. Last year he developed a mysterious ailment in his right eye, and despite being seen by a multitude of specialists, cancer always ended up being dismissed as a reason. When the righ eye needed to be removed, the local community, as well as the pet photography community, through Facebook rallied to our aid, and helped fund his surgery.

Then I got a call, X-rays showed nodules on his lungs. He had cancer after all. I was devastated at the news, but determined to tackle this battle and give him a fighting chance at living as long as possible with the disease. When it was discovered his form of cancer was the most aggressive, and untreatable, my heart broke.

Every day became a gift, as I spent quality time doing things he loved, like taking him to Balboa Park, the beach and the zoo. He got chicken breast at Urban Mo's and bacon from pizza at Hillcrest Brewing Company ... and I took a lot of photos to add to the thousands accumulated through the years of our journey. Though he would tire easily, he had had two really good days in a row, when my whole world came crashing down.

It was after an afternoon at his beloved park, at home he went into respiratory distress, and was too weak to stand and get in my car. My Facebook plea brought some dear friends to our aid, and helped as we rushed him to the vet emergency. Rich McCullen, pastor of our church, Missiongathering, came to be by our side, as I knew it was time, I couldn't let him suffer. He had a heart so large, that it took two doses for it to stop beating. Even in his final breaths, he didn't want to leave me. Saying goodbye as he lay with his head and a paw on my leg, was truly the most gut-wrenchingly difficult thing I have ever had to do.

I have been kept afloat by the outpouring of love and support from our community. Borias was such a remarkable soul, he made a lot of friends, touched many. While losing a pet is a hard thing for anyone, when it's a working dog, with you every hour of every day, it has a radical impact on your life and day to day routine. It's like losing a part of you. He was one of a kind, truly a once in a lifetime dog, that was so incredibly intelligent, and such a character ... his absence is as loud as his presence was.

To honor his joyful spirit, and all he taught me about love, and savoring every moment of every day, I'm planning a celebration of his life. He and I have shared our journey on a blog, and on his Facebook page. A book is also in the works.

Photo captions on the left

Top left: Tamandra with Borias. Credit: Heart Dog Studios

Middle left: Borias meeting Betty White. Credit: Heart Dog Studios

Bottom left: Borias ready to have his tummy scratched. Credit: Westway Photos