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.

Christmas with Maui

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Maui, there's a black dot in your eye," Nick said.

It was Sunday afternoon and we were watching TV on the couch. Feeling cuddly, Maui had wagged her Golden tail over to where we were and eagerly stuck her head in my lap. The sunlight shining through the window behind us caught her iris so that we could see what sort of looks like a black ink blob floating at the bottom of her iris. When she moved her eye, the blob would also move slightly.

Nick immediately called his sister, who is currently studying animal science at Michigan State University and on her way to vet school. Having never encountered what we were describing, she suggested we call a vet immediately. The problem was that it was Sunday, the day after Christmas; everything was closed.

There are two veterinary options in our small town. One clinic had me ordering ear drops nearly every two months when Maui would get severe ear infections, never once indicating that it could be food allergies. Later, when I took her to a clinic near school, they immediately diagnosed it as food allergies, switched her to a different protein type (salmon instead of lamb), and I have not had to use ear drops since then. I promptly had her medical records moved to the second clinic in town, which friends and acquaintances who were studying to become veterinarians and who were familiar with both practices assured me was better.

Unfortunately, the first clinic was the only one that had an on-call vet working on this particular Sunday. So I called, figuring if I wasn't happy with their response I could always call the Animal Hospital in Ann Arbor, which is further away and has a tendency to be overeager to ask you to come in.

After I described the dot in her iris, the doctor asked if her eye was goopy or seemed to be causing her pain. I told him no, and he said that "the name of it was escaping him," but it's fairly common and it's not a problem. Sometimes it can block a certain channel, and if this happens it can be to glaucoma, so it's a good idea to monitor it. That is, as far as he can tell over the phone, but if I would like to bring her in for an appointment on Monday he can take a look.

Feeling weary, I asked, "I know you can't remember the name, but do you know what it is? Can you describe what the dot is? I would like to do a little research online."

"Well," he said, "I can't think of it, but it's like a pigment in the eye. When I go into my office I can look it up and call you back with the name if you'd like."

The eye of an animal affected by an iris cyst.I told him that would be great and hung up. Nick and I had been searching the Internet, and we came across a number of horrible looking eye conditions found in dogs, but nothing that looked like what Maui had. Now we added the word "pigment" to our search, and discovered from Wikipedia that Maui has an iris cyst. The description matched what the vet said, and the pictures looked like what we saw in Maui's eye.

An hour later, the vet called back to tell us he found the name: it's an "iris cyst." Although we had to laugh a little bit because he couldn't remember a name which we were able to find on Wikipedia and that is totally descriptive—it's not like it's named for a Czechoslovakian scientist with an impossible last name to pronounce—it was nice of him to call us back in the same day.

So, we just have to keep an eye on it (ha ha, get it?) to make sure it doesn't block drainage and lead to glaucoma. Phew!

Other than that minor scare, Maui and I had a very relaxing Christmas. Since I've been so into making videos lately, I made a short compilation beginning with her perplexity over the train underneath our tree and ending with pictures from Christmas morning:

See you in 2011!

Saturday Morning Play Date

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NO SCHOOL! :-)

Since I finished my exams Thursday, Maui and I have been spending our free time Christmas shopping and visiting friends and family. Since we've been laying kind of low, there isn't much to write about. Maui had lots of time to play with Lola and Woolly when we spent the weekend at Nick's house. Rather than describe the key moments for you, I put together a video!

But first, I there's been an update on the chicken throwing episode that I want to mention. I received a very professional and apologetic response to my letter, and I was told that service dog etiquette has been brought up in small employee meetings and will be a topic at the "Welcome Back" meeting in the beginning of the second semester, which boasts over 130 attendees. I couldn't be happier with this response. I am so grateful that they are willing to take positive steps to make sure this kind of behavior isn't repeated.

On that happy note, here is the video!

Also, here's a picture of Maui and her "baby." When we came home, my mom had gotten out a few Christmas decorations. I was greeted with an old stuffed Santa on my pillow, and for Maui there was a little Christmas dog waiting on her bed. When she saw it, she approached it enthusiastically and began smelling. She pushed her nose deeper and deeper into it, sniffing excitedly, her tail wagging faster and faster. Then, she picked it up gently and brought it to me, placing it in my lap. Mom, look what I found!

Maui curled up on her bed with her stuffed animal Christmas dog.

Have a safe, warm, and a very Merry Christmas.

"WE Love YOUR Dog!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On Saturday, the University of Michigan was awarded a Guinness World Record for the largest number of people to ever attend a hockey game: 113,411 people made it to the Big House… and at least one dog!

A hockey rink was constructed on the Michigan football field in order to accommodate the record-breaking audience. The event was called "The Big Chill" in reference to the movie, which was directed by a University of Michigan graduate. The Wolverines delivered a crushing defeat to Michigan State. The final score was 5-0. Family tradition demands that I root for U of M, but I found myself hoping Michigan State would make at least just one goal. Poor Spartans.

Game day just so happened to fall on my stepfather's birthday, so we made a family event out of it. Chelsi, who is my best friend and practically family, was my date. Wearing lots of layers, we looked like we were ready to go sledding! And it was a good thing, too, because we stayed for the entire game, even though after the sun went down it got pretty darn cold.

Even Maui got bundled up. Earlier this week, we went to the pet store and picked out a fleece-lined jacket and booties for her paws. Since it wasn't snowing, we didn't put the booties on her, but it was quite funny watching her get used to them in the pet store. She sort of walked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, picking her feet up extra high.

We also brought her Christmas antlers to the game—those were a hit! My camera ran out of batteries, but a very kind gentleman with the Event Staff took pictures for us and e-mailed them to me. As the three of us turned around for our photo opportunity, a group of people several bleachers up chanted, "WE Love YOUR Dog!"

Maui, Chelsi, and I in the crowded stadium.

Can you blame them? She is such a celebrity!

Sorry this post is so late. We have been bogged down studying for finals.

For more pictures, check out our Facebook community page.

"Who Throws a Chicken? Honestly!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Maui and I were waiting in line for a sandwich. Because this particular spot on campus is known for long lines, I brought a book to read. Flipping through the pages, I noticed Maui lunge for a piece of food on the floor out of the corner of my eye. "Maui, no!" I scolded her, "Bad dog!" Her ears drooped in shame and her tail stopped wagging, but she continued chewing. She swallowed. "Sit," I told her firmly. She sat down and looked at me apologetically, licking her lips.

Service dogs are taught not to eat food off the floor because otherwise they are encouraged to pull away from their owners when they see anything that looks tasty. That kind of behavior is not only bad manners, but can be very dangerous if the owner is using a manual wheelchair or is walking: a strong enough tug could cause someone to lose her balance and fall. Also, what if it hadn't been food? What if it had been something dangerous that someone had dropped or spilled, like medication?

In general, as a part of maintaining her obedience training, she should not be eating anything without getting an "OK" from me. She's usually very good about this, so I was surprised when she all of a sudden went for it.

We made our way through the line and I ordered my sandwich. While I was paying, the student who made it came around to the front of the tall counter to bring it to me instead of trying to reach over the cash register. She began talking to Maui in a sweet, cooing tone. Interested, Maui's tail started wagging gently and she took a step toward the girl. "Maui, leave it," I said.

"Yeah," said a non-student worker from behind the counter, "I already got him in trouble when I threw a piece of chicken to him."

I froze. So the food Maui lunged for was actually thrown to her?

…Someone launched chicken at my dog?! An employee threw food over the counter at my service dog. Who does that?! Suddenly, I was furious. It was all I could do to keep from making a scene. When I found the words, they were amusingly patronizing.

"You did that?" I asked, clearly shocked.

"Yeah," she said, smiling. "I'm sorry." I got the impression that she probably thought I was going to apologize to my dog for getting her in trouble when she was obviously provoked. Instead, she was going to get a lecture.

"Oh, no. No. There is no petting, interacting with, and certainly no giving food to a service dog. Absolutely not." I shook my head. I was seriously dumbstruck. No one has ever thrown food at us before.

"Okay. I'm sorry." This time she understood that I was serious.

I finished paying and I left. The only thing I could think was, "SHE THREW CHICKEN! How absolutely absurd!"

Because I was so surprised, and because people were waiting in line behind me, I didn't explain to her why throwing chicken at a service dog is totally inappropriate. Frankly, it seems obvious to me that you shouldn't give anyone else's dog table food unless you've asked first. Most people are very particular about what they feed their pets and about discouraging begging, so I can't imagine why she thought it was okay. Plus, some dogs have food allergies and could be allergic to chicken (like Maui!). It's like offering someone's child a peanut butter sandwich without knowing if she's allergic to peanuts.

But to me, the problem goes even deeper. Why are so many people uneducated about service animals? In today's society, we claim to value things such as "diversity" and "multiculturalism" and "awareness" about different minority issues. Yet in my experience, when we talk about minorities, we talk about women, ethnic backgrounds, religion, and sexual orientation. We rarely include people with disabilities. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this is that having a disability is one of the few minority groups anyone has the potential to join at some point in their lives, but as a category it is given the least amount of attention.

Obviously, there are also a lot of people who do know about service dog etiquette, thanks mostly to organizations that train them giving presentations in their community. The younger generations especially know not to pet service dogs. But even with our hard work, it's not enough. There is still a lack of awareness.

As such, I expect that the general public is not familiar with the nuances of service dog etiquette. But employees of a state university should know better. And in this case, we are talking about a non-student employee, implying a higher ranking position. I argue that throwing food at someone's service dog is analogous to making an off-color comment about a particular race or religion or gay people. It reflects the same kind of ignorance and is extremely frustrating for the individual at whom it is directed. But the woman who threw chicken, like most of us, can probably more easily identify inappropriate comments or behaviors directed at other minority groups than identify similar comments or behaviors that are offensive to people with disabilities. Her lack of education reflects a broader societal lack of awareness. This needs to change.

My letter to the appropriate people regarding the chicken-throwing episode went in the mail yesterday.