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Tails of the City: From the Bottom of Their “Art”
By Peggy Scott
San Diego UpTown News

tammy boriasLocal artist/pet photographer Tamandra Michaels of Normal Heights has always known that Borias, her 8-year-old German shepherd, was gifted. A faithful companion, assistant and confidante, Borias has helped make life easier for his guardian, for whom a lifelong disability necessitates the use of a wheelchair. Pedigree aside, Borias is also a champion “retriever.”

“He can pick up almost anything, even coins,” Michaels said, explaining that this particular skill is especially helpful. “He can turn lights on and off, and help pull some clothes off. He loves to take my socks off. He’s opened so many doors for me, literally and figuratively.”

Always independent, Michaels raised and trained her own assistance dog because she wanted to choose the breed and the way the dog was trained. Borias’ laid-back temperament and outgoing personality were unmistakable, even as a young pup. And so was his intellect.

“Borias learns the names of things after just labeling it once or twice,” Michaels explained. “He knows hundreds of words and phrases. He’s (also) quite clownish, comical and playful, and loves to make me laugh.”

With all those abilities in his repertoire, Borias wasn’t finished amazing Michaels. He had one more trick up his sleeve — if he wore them, that is. He’s also a budding artist, and he’s using his paws for a cause — partially his own.

Borias has a re-herniated disc, and arthritis is starting in his front leg. For relief, he receives acupuncture, deep tissue massage and chiropractic adjustments. All of which, as any pet owner knows, can be quite costly. In order to help pay for his veterinary care, Michaels came up with the idea for her Forever in My Heart series of paintings. She envisioned a tribute to how her heart is forever linked with Borias’ heart.

“I got the idea to have him help me create art when I had been doing paintings of my logo design for my pet photography business, which has a paw print in a heart,” Michaels recalled. “I thought it would be cool if I could use his real paw print. So I made several paintings, and took him outside, painted the color on his front paw, and had him put it down on the canvas. It looked so much cooler than me painting one in! Each one is a little different, and his fur makes an impression with it, too.”

The paintings were exhibited at the Animal Healing Center in Linda Vista, where Borias receives his treatments, and the orders started coming in. The proceeds go directly toward Borias’ bills. Michaels’ works can also be seen at Kensington Pet Supply and Dirty Dog Pet Wash (both on Adams Avenue), and online at

In the future, Michaels hopes to be able to expand Borias’ treatments to include physical therapy, swim therapy and even stem cell therapy. Should her fundraising efforts prove successful, she would also like to be able to donate a portion of the proceeds to Pets Are Wonderful Support (P.A.W.S.), a charity that helps low-income, elderly, and disabled San Diego County residents in need keep their beloved animal companions. Anyone who shares his or her life with a pet can relate to Michaels’ motivation.

“I’m so thankful to have this amazing dog by my side,” Michaels said. “He shows me every day that I am deeply loved, unconditionally… for Borias, there is no such thing as a bad day. I’ve learned that you can do anything you set your mind to, no obstacle is too tough.”

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