Tuesdays With Maui

Maui and I pose outside a shop with a sign in the window that says Service Dogs ONLY.
Maui is no ordinary Golden Retriever. She has VIP access to any public location, including restaurants and movie theaters. When she's caught sleeping in class, nobody minds.
Maui and I riding in a taxi.
As my Assistance Dog, Maui's job is to accompany me wherever I go. If I drop an object, she picks it up. If I need a door opened, she handles it. Because of her, I am able to lead a more independent life.
Maui in her geisha Halloween costume.
There are many rules Maui has to follow, and these rules can seem unfair to humans. But to Maui, the job is a game. She is rewarded for "tricks" and is allowed to be with her human all day long!
Maui sticking her head between the vertical blinds to see out our living room sliding glass door.
If there are no health or behavioral problems after the first year, the future service dog is moved to Paws with a Cause headquarters where it is matched with a client on the waiting list.
Maui getting her leash crossed with Lulu's while on a walk.
Maui is gentle and responds well to vocal commands, but she also has a lot of energy. This makes her a perfect match for me because I have limited upper body strength and I lead a very active life.
Maui with her front paws resting on the keys of a painted street piano in Denver.
Taking an adorable Golden Retriever everywhere with me has led to many interesting experiences. By sharing them with you, I hope to spread awareness of Service Dogs and issues affecting people with disabilities.

In Memory of Maui

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By now most of you have heard the sad news that Maui passed away on January 2 due to complications from an emergency splenectomy. I lost my sweet girl. One of the most difficult things about coping with the loss of the service dog is the inability to return to a “normal” routine. Nothing is the same – not going to work, not going out, not going to sleep, not even waiting for the elevator. Certainly it has been difficult adjusting to relying more on people for things that Maui used to help with, but missing her companionship is far more painful.

Over the past two and a half months, I have been incredibly moved, humbled, and comforted by all the support I received. Family, friends, and friends of family and friends contributed almost $9000 to help cover the cost of Maui’s medical bills and support the incredible, life-changing work of the organization that trained her, Paws with a Cause. Maui’s Memorial Fund is still available and includes the story of our final days together.

Maui changed my life, and I could not say goodbye without honoring her life and her service. On Saturday, March 12, my family, friends, and I had a memorial service to remember Maui. It was absolutely beautiful; I am forever grateful to all who attended and helped make it possible. I couldn’t imagine a better way to say goodbye.

Tuesdays with Maui has been inactive for a couple years, after grad school hit me full force in 2012. For the final post, I would like to share excerpts from the remarks I read, the video tribute I showed (feel free to skip right to this), and photos from the service. But before closing, I have to thank those of you who read and supported Tuesdays with Maui during our active years, whether regularly or casually. What an awesome part of my journey with Maui this has been. I’ve gotten to connect with so many wonderful Paws folks – clients, trainers, foster families, and staff. Everyone’s readership and Facebook comments led to memorable conversations, and encouraged me to continue this project. Now, it is a treasured keepsake, a time capsule of some of Maui’s finest moments from 2010-2012.

I am in the process of bringing home a successor service dog, hopefully before the end of the year. I could never replace Maui or re-create the wonderful journey we had together. Among so many other things, she taught me life is better with a dog by my side, so as I heal from this loss I also look forward to bringing home my next poochie family member. The Tuesdays with Maui experience has convinced me to do something similar – it will probably not be as intensive as a blog, but it will be something. Until then, thank you for all of your kindness and support.

Chairs laid out infront of a table with dog toys and a dog bed.  Image of Maui on a projector screen

Maui’s Memorial Service Opening Remarks

Thank you all for being here today. Truthfully, it is surreal to see all of you in the same room – colleagues, family, friends from all corners of my life and Maui’s. It's kind of unique situation, isn't it? For most dog memorial services, only a small group of family members attend. At least, this is what I think is true – I guess I wouldn't know, this one is my first. Maybe they're all like this and I've never been invited.

Table with a few dog colars on it But since Maui went everywhere with me, everyone who knew me knew her. And most of you had to follow these rules where you weren't allowed to interact with her, or if you were, only under certain conditions – and yet on some level, she's left an impression. Maybe it was those soulful brown eyes, or just the sheer joy of witnessing what she was capable of. Maybe it was her sweet presence, that just inexplicably melts your heart. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for being here with me today to honor Maui's life and her service, and for everything you have done to support me through this painful loss.

I'd like to start by talking a little bit about Maui's life, then I will invite family and friends to share a favorite story or a few words about Maui. If you have a favorite Maui moment you will be welcome to share. Afterward, you'll get to hear from me again before we watch a video together.

Table with a flowers and programs fanned out Maui was one of seven puppies born on December 4, 2006 to Phoebe, a professional mama dog for Paws with A Cause. Each litter of puppies is assigned a letter of the alphabet, and all the puppies' names must begin with this letter. Foster families get to choose the names from a preapproved list, to make sure the names are reasonably short and easy to say. Evidently when they created this list, they didn't realize how much Maui sounds like Molly, or even Howie, but I digress. When Maui’s foster family – Dianna and Dave Rottiers, and their three children, Chelsea, Mallory, and Brandon – brought her home, they named her after the Hawaiian island because they figured it was unlikely their family of five would ever take a Hawaiian vacation.

Not that raising a golden retriever puppy for the first year is a vacation, but it was certainly an adventure, and not their first of this kind! Maui was the family's 11th service dog. Dianna and Dave's youngest child was only four years old when they started fostering Paws dogs. Let's imagine, for a moment, the look on Dianna's face when her husband came home from work one day and excitedly explained to her that his company hosted a Paws presentation, and wouldn't it be fun to bring home a puppy, train them intensively for a year, and then give them away – all in a household of three children under the age of 10? Are you imagining the look? Somehow he managed to convince her, and their family is now known for it. They say, "it's our thing."

So this selfless, adventurous family surrounded Maui with love and taught her the basics of being a successful service dog with consistent training and exposure to lots of different human environments. The love they showed at this crucial age had much to do with shaping the dog we knew. One of the kids, Mallory, had the rebellious habit of ignoring the "all four on the floor" rule and often took Maui into her lap while she was doing school work at the computer. I don't think it's a coincidence that Maui loved to cuddle.

After a year with her foster family, Maui had shown she had the health, temperament, and intelligence to be a Paws dog. Her family brought her to Paws with a Cause headquarters, leaving a piece of their heart with her. After months of more specialized training – learning to ignore distractions, walk alongside a wheelchair, retrieve all kinds of objects, open and close doors, pull on sleeves, and more – she was matched with me.

She came to live with me at Grand Valley State University in October 2008 so that I could go about my life not fearing the simple mistake of dropping my cell phone, or my keys, or the remote to the TV. Table with a few dog colars on it So that I could go about my life confident that a host of situations that would otherwise make me feel unsafe or, at the very least, helpless, were no big deal. Over the next seven years, she perfected some elements of her service dog training while others went straight out the window, like staying off of furniture and begging. Both my fault and I have no regrets. She stood, sat, napped, or cuddled faithfully by my side through college classes, human rights demonstrations, family gatherings, first dates, job interviews, meetings and presentations, dialogues with college students, girls nights, concerts and performances, and countless Netflix binges. She walked across a graduation stage, traveled to 15 cities, begged at countless tables, put her toes in the ocean, welcomed new people into both our lives and helped me say goodbye to others.

Maui grew from a youthful, high-energy, wonderful service dog with a weakness for other dogs and anyone baby talking, into a dignified, calm, exceptional companion who I could trust to follow me down a busy street when her leash came detached from my wheelchair and to stay in a fenceless yard, even when there was another dog right next door.

She was as sweet and as gentle as they come. She loved to cuddle, to love and be loved. As you can see from pictures, she never really outgrew her lapdog at the computer days. She even climbed onto my lap on a flight to San Francisco – laid down on top of me in that tiny airline seat, her head in the aisle and her tail on some stranger's arm.

Dinner was her favorite time of the day. At the sound of the dog food rattling against her dish, she literally shook with anticipation. Even though she was supposed to sit and wait for the okay to eat, she was usually too excited and would have to stand, or at least take little steps toward the dish while lifting her butt off the floor as little as possible. And when she was finished, she would come find me wherever I was, prancing, tail wagging, to lean her head against me and say thank you while licking her chops. It was her favorite part of the day.

She loved her dinner. So when she didn't eat her dinner the night we landed in Florida, we knew something was wrong. The next five days were an emotional roller coaster, as we waited for test results, made difficult decisions, and focused on reasons to hope. Maui had a tumor on her spleen and needed an emergency splenectomy. She came through the surgery, we brought her home and thought we were out of danger, at least until the tumor was analyzed. But only a couple hours later, a blood clot sent her into cardiac arrest and quickly, shockingly took her life.

We usually expect to outlive our pets, but of course we hope to have as much time as possible and that they will pass peacefully and comfortably. Our hopes become shoulds and supposed tos. Maui should have been my service dog for another year, at least. She was supposed to retire, go live with my mom and Scott for a couple years, maybe even meet her successor and teach them a thing or two. She should be here today.

Sometimes life doesn't grant us our hopes, and we're left with a mess of sadness, pain, disappointment, frustration, anger. And yet, there exists because of the gratitude, the love, and all of the wonderful, funny, silly, beautiful memories and lessons left behind.

So that is why it means so much to me that all of you are here today, to honor Maui and her life of service by remembering the many reasons we have to be grateful to have known her. I'm going to relinquish the microphone for now, but I'll be back – aren't you lucky. Anyone who feels so inclined is welcome to share a few words about Maui.

Closing Remarks

My mom and Scott did not like the idea of me getting a service dog. They were doing their jobs as parents – acknowledging the very real concern the even a very helpful service dog might be too much work. And I was doing my job as an 18-year-old – doing what I wanted without thinking too hard about the consequences. I knew that if it didn't work out, I could return the dog, and that was enough for me. Right, like I was going to give up Maui even if every day was her worst day.

The first time I met Maui she had been in specialized training at Paws headquarters for a few months. Chelsi and I arrived and they led us to a large, open room with all kinds of training props. Maui's trainer, Barb, came around the corner with the pooch and I just remember Maui picking up speed when she saw us, her feet losing traction on the cement floor and Barb struggling to keep up. Maui let out a low grumble, jumped with her front paws on my lap, and began licking my face while Barb asked, "Ashley, is this okay?" Okay? It's a dream come true. Once we all calmed down, I asked Barb, "Was that a growl I heard?" She told me that was a Golden Grumble, lots of golden retrievers make that noise when they are excited. It was a noise I was going to become very, very familiar with.

When I brought Maui home, I didn't know what to expect. I had done my best to prepare by watching every episode of Cesar Milan's The Dog Whisperer I could catch on TV – I had even picked out my own Caesar noise. (Demonstrate) so you know, I didn't know what to expect but I was ready. Or so I thought. I was not allowed to take Maui into public by myself for the first several weeks, not until our field trainer, Connie, who visited every few days, gave us the green light. So while I was in class, Maui stayed behind in a crate. When I got home to let her out, just… Wow. The noises she made. She would run in circles around my wheelchair, jump on my lap, off my lap, on my lap, off my lap, grumbling and groaning like a cow. I would tell her to sit, and she would immediately pop back up again, carrying on like this for at least five minutes or so. And then I had a terrible, horrible thought that no daughter wants to have: what if my mom and Scott were right? What have I gotten myself into? Was she going to act like this in public?

Painting of Maui on a table So I asked Connie, what is going on with this dog? She told me to just ignore her, that the attention encourages her and keeps her riled up. So the next time I came home, I let Maui out of her crate and sat completely still, staring straight ahead, trying not to laugh too obviously while she carried on sounding like a cow. To my relief, she calmed down quickly, and I was able to slip her leash over her head and take her for a walk to get rid of some of that excess Golden energy.

Soon, I was bringing Maui everywhere with me anyway, and my life was forever changed. I adopted Maui to help me deal with what I like to call, "Oh shit" moments.Side note, the first time I said shit in front of Maui, she promptly sat down and looked at me with that eager face. And I thought, well it's hard to be angry anymore. Anyway, what do I mean by "oh shit" moments? Like if I dropped my cell phone, which is my lifeline to help in any situation. Like if I dropped the keys to my building in the dead of winter and no one was around. Like if I attended a meeting or an event or went to a store and couldn't open the door myself, and no one was around. No amount of planning could guarantee these things wouldn't happen.

But with Maui, these "oh shit" moments were no big deal.Map of the US with picturse and string showing all the places Maui visited As a student, coming home from a meeting at 11 p.m. I dropped my phone in the middle of the road. No one was around. If I hadn't had Maui, I would've had to go find help, and by that time it could have been run over by a car or stolen. Instead, I told Maui, "take it," and as if it were the best game in the world, she pounced on my cell phone – a lifeless object that did not need pouncing – and brought it to me. In another example, she picked up my keys one cold, rainy morning when the wind just blew them right off of my wheelchair. It was a dark, about 630 a.m., no one was around. And a few years ago when the plastic knob on my joystick kept suddenly falling off as I was just going about my day, she was there to pick it up again and again and again.

Without a doubt, the most important task she did for me was also probably the easiest and most fun for her: retrieving objects. But she was also the reason I was able to open the door to my own apartment in the past two places I've lived. She often helped me take off my heavy winter jacket. And in one of my apartments she learned to turn on and off the light switch.

My life changed because Maui was there to take care of me, but also because I had fallen in love with her and with taking care of her. Early on I was hit with the profound realization that her entire life's happiness and well-being were up to me. She was by my side every moment of every day of the rest of her life. For every dropped item she retrieved, every door she opened or closed, every sleeve she pulled, every light she turned on and off, clearly it was my job to show her the same unconditional love and devotion and selflessness that she showed me. For all the happiness she brought to my life, it was my job to bring the same to hers.

Over time, I learned her favorite toys, treats, and ways to be cuddled. I learned to read her feelings and needs based on dozens of subtle cues – how she held her tail, the position of her ears, her famous golden grumbles, her whines, and the way she looked at me. I watched over her health, soothed her through sickness and thunderstorms, sang her songs, and played hide and seek with her. She was a piece of my heart.

I could talk for a long time about how much I loved her, but I want to share some of my favorite Maui stories with you

[At this point I did some freestyle storytelling. I will write some of them, but others I did not write out because you can find them in Tuesdays with Maui posts.]

Another painting of Maui, this one from the students of GSP at University of Michigan Everyone loves a story about Maui being a bad dog because, you know, usually she’s so good. Well there are plenty of those. For example, there was the time when I was alone in my dorm at Grand Valley and the fire alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. Spoiler alert: there was no fire, but of course at 4:30 in the morning you don’t know that. You just know it’s not a drill.

Paws with a Cause is clear that there are certain protective things dogs are not trained for but in the case of an emergency, it is hoped that they can step up to the task. So there I was, in bed with the light flashing and the horrible alarm sounds filling the room, and Maui jumped onto my bed, sat on my lap, and would not budge. No matter how many times I told her to get off, she would not move.

I called 911 and explained my situation. The dispatcher told me there was a team on the way to campus, took my room number, and told me responders would find their way to my room. When, several minutes later, four men dressed in black came crashing into my room like a SWAT team – in the dark – do you think Maui was concerned? No! She stood up to greet them, standing on my lap with her tail wagging and her nose outstretched. Very comforting.

Then there’s everyone’s favorite story that made its way around on Facebook: the time when Maui walked into Pet Smart. My usual routine was to let Maui out of the car first. She would sit and wait while my friend/driver unloaded my wheelchair and helped me transfer. Certainly, she was sometimes tempted by the smells wafting through the parking lot, especially by a pet store. But she usually stayed put!

This time, as my friend is helping me transfer (with my back to the store), she says, “Um, Ashley, Maui got up.”

“That’s okay, she probably just had to go to the bathroom,” I said, thinking she was making her way to the patch of grass next to the car.

A blue vest with a Paws With a Cause patch and a 'Don't pet me i'm working' patch “Uhh,” said my friend, looking over my shoulder with her arms around me, mid-transfer. “I don’t think so. She’s crossing the road. Ashley, she is all the way to the door. Oh my God, Ashley, she went into the store!” At this point she set me down in my wheelchair and I pulled forward to see around the front of the car. There, in the low light of the evening, I saw in the lit up storefront windows of Pet Smart Maui’s tail wagging back and forth as she made her way through the front aisle! I will never forget it. By the time I reached her, I was laughing so hard I was in tears.

She was so smart. Obviously, from earlier stories, she could think on the spot and she learned quickly. Most people were amazed to know that I taught her to stay in my parents’ unfenced backyard just by walking her around the perimeter, giving her a firm “no” when she stepped outside the yard and giving her a treat when she came back in. And she knew.

I never would have attempted to teach Maui to stay in the yard if I didn't trust her. But even though she had her lapse moments as we all do,A collection of dog colars displayed on a tableI could trust Maui to wait for me in a sit-stay until I gave her the okay while I rode on a lift taking me in my wheelchair up a flight of stairs or into an accessible van. I could trust her to be off-leash in my office when every day she might be around someone who is deeply afraid of her.

After Maui died, I sat alone with her by her side. I have always felt lucky to have Maui, but at that moment I truly, profoundly realized she gave her life to me. She gave her life to me. What a humbling moment.

So even though she was already gone, I told her thank you, and hoped I had done right by her by showing her my gratitude every day that she was with me.

Because she is absolutely one of the greatest gifts life has given me.