Tamirose Ferchak looks het two personal assistants in the eyes, gestures with a hand and says, “sweater.” In a flash, one of them runs upstairs and retrieves it. Not your typical assistants, Gizmo and Foxy are actually toy Papillon dogs that Tamirose rescued and trained as service dogs in 2003.
“They live to do things for me,” says the 45-year-old Las Vegas resident. “They are my legs, arms and back – all in one.”
Before her beloved Papillons, basic daily tasks proved difficult and pain was Tamirose’s constant companion. Steroids prescribed for knee pain led to damaged knee joints that required bilateral surgery in 1981.
The source of Tamirose’s pain went misdiagnosed for more than 20 years, and her decreased mobility forced her to put aside her ambition to become a doctor. But Tamirose adapted, applying her caring manner and skills to managing a large primary medical care practice.
After 34 back surgeries, numbing medications and declining health, she went on permanent disability in 2002 and was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2003. In an uncanny twist of fate, before her mother-in-law passed away that same year, she told Tamirose and family, “I will return as a butterfly and watch over you.” Months after rescuing her Papillons from a home overcrowded with dogs, Tamirose learned that papillon means butterfly in French.
“The kids” – as Tamirose and her husband, John, affectionately call the Papillons – fetch medication bottles, pick up dropped items, jump higher than a doorknob to retrieve car keys from a basket, and bring her knife and fork at meals if needed.
“Gizmo is my nurse and protector,” says Tamirose. “Foxy is my cuddle bug. She’ll find the places where Mommy hurts and lie there like a heating pad.”
As designated service animals, the intelligent duo accompany Tamirose “99.5 percent of the time,” even on air- planes. “They love going everywhere and it gives me a chance to educate more people about what they do.”
Tamirose recommends Papillons as helpmates for others with arthritis. “But to get a dog to do things for you,” she says, “you’ve got to love the animal, make a connection and develop trust.”