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.

Ferocious Woolly Bear

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ONLY TWO AND A HALF WEEKS LEFT IN THE SEMESTER!

… Sorry for the outburst. After what I think was one of most rushed Thanksgiving breaks of my college career so far, I am pretty excited to be nearly done. Due Monday and Tuesday of this week were: a take-home Arabic exam, an eight-page draft paper, a five-page paper, and discussion questions on a 270-page book. I'm tired.

But even though we had a lot of work to do over break, Maui and I did have time for a little bit of play. On Thanksgiving, we both ate two dinners. I ate with my family, and then we went to Nick's house and joined them for their meal. Afterward, we watched Christmas Vacation, and since I hadn't planned on staying so late I didn't bring any dog food. When Nick's mom gave their dog, Lola, her food, Maui rushed to my side. She sat with her ears perked, staring toward the kitchen and waiting for me to give her the signal.

Because of her food allergies, I give her a specific kind of dog food, so she couldn't share. When I tried to ignore her, she pulled the Golden grumble on me. Fortunately, they had some raw potatoes (which are naturally hypoallergenic) that we cut up and fed her. Then she got her regular meal when we went home. Not a bad Thanksgiving for a dog.

She also got to play with Lola and a new friend, Woolly. He is the newest addition to Nick's family: a seven-week-old toy poodle mix recently adopted by Nick's grandmother. Even though he's basically the cutest thing ever, both Lola and Maui were afraid of him! When I held him, Maui sniffed cautiously, backing away if he moved toward her.

But Lola, who is so submissive that she brings out Maui's dominant side, gets the award for Biggest Baby. When we set Woolly on the floor, he playfully ran toward her. Terrified, she bolted in the opposite direction, stopping when she reached the corner of the room and cowering. When Woolly continued to chase after her, she ran into the kitchen. It was quite funny to watch something so small frighten something so big. I guess that's what people look like when they're afraid of mice…

Here are some pictures:

Nick holds Woolly on his lap while Maui and I say hello. Maui comes in closer to investigate the little puppy.

We also finally got a chance to hang out with my best friend, Chelsi, whom we hadn't seen in months. On Saturday we went to the movies and saw Burlesque. It was pretty good for what it was, and Christina Aguilera is so freaking talented. I recommend it if you're into that kind of movie.

Hopefully I'll have more time to write next week — our last week of regular classes before exams! We are going to see President George Bush speak in Grand Rapids on Thursday, so maybe something interesting will happen there. (If a president of the United States pets your service dog, do you tell him not to? I think so. He's the President of the United States! He should know better!)

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The Maui Mob

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maui and I entered The Connection, the trendy new dining place on campus. A group of three students standing and chatting near the entryway saw us coming and rushed forward. Soon, we were at the center of a Maui-petting mob.

"Oh hi, puppy!"

"She's so cute!"

"Adorable!"

I started cracking up. They stopped and started laughing, too.

"Okay, we're gonna have to do that again. One of our actresses started laughing," Deb from Paws with a Cause said, smiling.

"I'm sorry," I said, regaining my self-control. "But that has never happened to me before. I'm not sure what I would do if that really happened… that was ridiculous."

PAWS was working on a video piece on service dog etiquette for MonkeySee.com, a website featuring how-to videos on a wide variety of topics. Several of my friends joined us to act out scenes of what to do and what not to do when you see someone with a service dog. We had just finished a scene where one friend pet Maui while we were standing in line and I explained that she cannot pet working dogs.

We then moved on to a more dramatized version of several people petting without asking, but on second thought decided it was too unrealistic. Instead, on the second go, my friends stayed where they were and reached out to pet Maui as we went by. This is something that actually does happen quite often, to my amazement. People will nearly fall over themselves, reaching out just so that they can get a feel as we pass by. What does anyone get out of this? For just one second, the person is able to feel a dog's fur—yep, it's soft. Check. As for Maui, she either thinks it's me because she's not paying attention or is startled because she wasn't expecting anyone to reach out and grab her. And I'm just annoyed. I will probably never understand this impulse, so I'm glad that it will be in the video.

*End rant.*

Next, we got footage of Maui picking up my keys. I "accidentally" dropped them while my friend Chris and I walked (and rolled) down the sidewalk chatting. I hope they include the audio, because it went something like this:

CAMERA GUY: Okay, whenever you're ready.

ME: (moving forward) Okay, what do we talk about?

CHRIS: Well, we could talk about my new girlfriend who's a model.

ME: You don't have a new girlfriend who's a model.

CHRIS: Hey, how do you know? You don't. I could have a model girlfriend.

ME: No, probably not.

CHRIS: Hey, what? Why not?!

ME: Because most people don't have model girlfriends.

(Keys fall. Chris moves to pick them up.)

ME: I got it. Maui, keys! Go get 'em!

I suppose that's not entirely relevant to the overall goal of the video piece.

And this wasn't even Maui's only gig this week—she is quite the celebrity! We also gave a presentation at Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity's meeting on Sunday. The group has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Canine Companions, another organization that trains service dogs. I was honored to talk to these guys and to say thank you for their impressive service record.

To add to Maui's fame, Tuesdays with Maui is now on Facebook, as requested by one of our readers! I'm excited because we haven't quite figured out how to include comments on the website, so now people can discuss together on Facebook. Be sure to check out our community page and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Monsters Maui Under the Bed

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nick was under my bed.

"C'mon Maui," he cooed. Peering under the bed and beginning to go down on her front legs, Maui decided against it. She stood back up and turned to me instead, trotting over and resting her head against my knee. She nudged my hand, searching my eyes for absolution.

"Nick, she doesn't want to. She's a big chicken," I said, patting her head and laughing at my big golden baby.

"C'mon Maui, it's okay," he persisted gently. She walked toward the bed again. Desperate to get to him, she cautiously stuck her whole head under the bed this time, going down on her elbows with her butt in the air, till swishing back and forth. "Good girl! Keep going… come here…."

Her butt plopped to the ground, still sticking out from underneath the bed.

"Nick, don't make her," I pleaded. "Why do you tease her so?"

"She'll be happy once she gets under here. Dogs like confined spaces," he assured me. He patted the ground. "C'mon puppy!"

To my surprise, she army crawled forward until she was completely under the bed, then turned around to face the direction from which she came, curling her body against Nick and tossing her head back to lick his face.

"Good girl," he said, laughing. Her tail thumped against the floor triumphantly.

Bending forward to see the two of them, I shook my head. "You are so weird."

It was only a few weeks, though, until I realized there were some perks to Maui's newfound confidence. For example, it used to be that when her ball rolled under the bed, she paced around it, head down, trying to get a glimpse of her toy and whining softly. "I'm sorry," I would tell her. "I can't help you! We have to wait." But now, Maui has no problem getting on her belly and retrieving it herself.

And, in a bizarre coincidence to last week's post, a few days ago I found myself dropping my clicker off the foot of the bed again. This time, I was not in the bed, so it wasn't a huge deal. But it slid underneath the foot-board, which begins only a few inches from the floor. I told Maui to "take it," so she bent down and tried to stick a paw under to bring the remote control closer. Realizing that it was too far away, she trotted around to the other side of the bed and disappeared. I stayed where I was, amused at her problem-solving skills. Seconds later, she was prancing toward me, tail wagging and clicker in her mouth.

I was impressed.

The moral of the story: You never know when your boyfriend's silly ideas will result in a worthy achievement. Still, this is the exception and not the rule, so I maintain that it is okay to shake your head and call him weird.

Maui is "LEGENDARY!"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Just a few weeks after Maui came to live with me, I sat awake in bed with the TV on. I had just finished watching The Daily Show, as I do every night, and I dropped my remote control off the end of my bed. It slid off a stack of books by my feet when I attempted to move them—there wasn't much room for me, my laptop, and my gigantic stack of homework in my little twin sized bed, but I was forced to make it work. The last time my clicker fell, I had to call and wake up one of my assistants who happened to live in the same building. I didn't have Maui, then.

But just because I had Maui this time didn't necessarily mean there weren't any challenges. Usually, when I ask Maui to pick something up for me, it is right next to me and I can point to it. In this case, the clicker was slightly under the bed, and rather far away for me to point to. I tried, anyway, pointing in the general direction but only confusing poor Maui.

Suddenly, I had an idea. Figuring she had never been asked to pick anything up from this particular location before, and she hadn't seen anything fall, why would she know what I was talking about? "Maui!" I said excitedly, making sure I had her attention. Then I tossed a pen in the direction of the remote control so that it would roll under the bed a little bit. "Take it!"

Having seen the item fall, she ran toward the end of the bed and retrieved the pen. Having no treats, I knew I would have to practically throw a party for her to understand what a good job she had done and to make her want to do it again. So, I got excited. Really excited. I showered her with embarrassingly high-pitched praises, telling her what a good girl she was, and massaging her ears just the way she likes it.

Then I stopped. "Maui? Can you do it again?" Her ears perked with interest and her eyes locked on mine. I knew she was up to the challenge. I pretended to toss something in exactly the same location as I had the pen, and told her to "take it." To my amazement, she followed my trajectory to the foot of the bed, her head disappearing underneath it for a couple seconds, and returned successfully with my clicker.

Oh my goodness, were we excited. I didn't have to wake anyone up to come help me with the simple task of turning off the television, and I had learned that, with some creativity and patience, Maui could help me in some unpredictable situations.

It's two years later, now, and I am in a different apartment and I have a double bed. This is significant because things do not fall off of it, so I haven't had to use my trick until recently. Now, you might be less impressed with this most recent example because, I admit, the stakes were not as high. If I had been unable to convince Maui to bring me this particular item, I could have gone without it. I would not have had to wake anyone up.

I recently became addicted to the online real-time strategy game, League of Legends. I'm… not very good at it. But it's a lot of fun, it distracts me from homework (perhaps a little too much), and it's a great way to stay in touch with high school friends who don't attend my university. I would like to blame Nick for getting me hooked on this game, but let's be honest: half the time I am what Alcoholics Anonymous would call an enabler to his own battles with procrastination, begging him as I do to play with me.

But I digress.

I feel like anyone who plays video games on campus will understand what I'm about to say next: our wireless connection is not ideal. It makes my gameplay lag, and sometimes it simply quits and I am disconnected from the game for minutes at a time. Even though I'm…not very good, I'm going to say that this is still a disadvantage to my team. So, it's best to use an Ethernet cord (plugged into the wall) for a stronger connection.

This is the story of how I trained Maui to plug in an Ethernet cord.

… Just kidding. She couldn't do that. "She doesn't even have thumbs, Focker!" (Meet the Parents reference, not misspelled profanity.)

The spot where I plug into the wall is across the room, underneath my kitchen table, which is a couple feet away from the foot of my bed. When I'm not using the cord, I leave it in a pile underneath the table. I had forgotten to ask my personal assistant to plug it into my laptop before she left for the night.

Again, I tried pointing and telling Maui to "take it" to no avail, even though she has picked it up for me before when I was not in bed and could clearly point to it. But, it was late and I had woken her up, so she stood in the middle of the room, blinking groggily, and eventually panting in frustration, having brought me everything else she could find on the floor (a pen, a piece of paper, etc.). Plus, she just isn't used to bringing me cords. Sometimes I wonder if she has a hard time seeing them because they kind of blend into the carpet.

Recalling my success with the remote control, I switched tactics.

"Maui?" She looked at me as if to say, "Unless you tell me to lie down, I refuse."

"Go get your ball!" I said excitedly.

What? I was not expecting that… well, okay, I can do that.

She walked into the kitchen area and retrieved her ball, tail wagging slightly this time. She brought me the ball, and I tossed it under the table. "Go get it!" She ran toward it, and it emitted a noisy squeak as she pounced on it.

She jumped onto the bed and I went crazy with excitement. It was contagious, and as she began to lick my face she was probably wondering why I was getting so excited over this ball that she brings me all the time. Then, I lowered the boom.

"Maui, off." She reluctantly jumped off the bed and waited for my next instructions. I gestured toward the place the ball had landed earlier, which was right next to the cord. "Go get it!" I said, as if this was just as exciting as retrieving the ball. I did not expect this to work. It was a last-ditch effort, I knew I was pushing her limits, and there was no evidence to suggest she even knew there was something under the table. As soon as she put her nose down near the cord, I said, "Yes! That's it! Take it!"

And she did! She picked up the whole pile and ran toward me, jumping onto the bed triumphantly. She set it down next to me, sat on top of it, and began mauling me, one paw on my shoulder, relentlessly kissing. Meanwhile, I was genuinely shouting excitedly, "Yes! Maui! You're amazing! You are such a good girl! Oh yes!"

… At some point it occurred to me that anyone passing by my room in the hallway right now probably wondered what the heck was going on. But I didn't care, because I was surprised and so proud of her.

I would like to end today's post with a quote from a fellow student, Anna Oliva, who is considering becoming a foster raiser for Paws with a Cause. Her godfather had a leader dog, and she is anxious to help others like him. She says, "I saw firsthand how those dogs enabled people to do things that may not have been possible before.  That makes the world a more accessible and enjoyable place for this person.  That in turn makes it a more accessible and enjoyable place for us all."

I appreciate her sense of community. Accessibility affects all of us, not just people with disabilities.

Maui with her front paws on my lap as we get our picture taken. Maui gives me a kiss for the next photo.
Profile picture of me and Maui taken at a dinner to recognize scholarship donors and awardees, to be sent to the generous individuals who established the scholarship I received.

"Zoinks! Like, Happy Halloween, Scoob!"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Every year, Amnesty International USA members gather at the regional and national level. The purpose is to allow card-carrying members to propose and vote on resolutions; student and local chapters are permitted to vote as a group regardless of their membership status. As a grassroots human rights organization, this is how we are able to have a direct say on how AI operates. But these gatherings are mostly known for their workshops on human rights, amazing guest speakers, and the inspiring fellow-activists we meet there.

Over the weekend, Nick, Maui, and I attended the 2010 Midwest Regional Conference in Detroit along with other members of our GVSU chapter. We watched Guatemala: In the Shadow of the Raid, a brief PBS special which reported on the economic devastation caused by a raid for undocumented workers on America's largest meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa. We heard from courageous human rights defenders: a former police officer now working for the ACLU told the story of Reggie Clemons, an African-American who suffered police brutality and now sits on death row in spite of a confession from a white suspect; a lawyer who agreed to accept the cases of two Guantánamo inmates, despite nearly insurmountable obstacles to a fair trial; and a women's rights activist from Juarez, Mexico, where thousands of women are raped and murdered every year while the government refuses to seek justice.

Although there is a lot of serious work to do at the conferences, of course we leave time for a little play. This year, members and friends of members with musical and poetic talents were invited to perform at the Jamnesty concert, a popular AI fundraising event. I suggested to the conference planning committee that we tell people to wear Halloween costumes because I was concerned that many college students, a core portion of attendees, would hesitate to come for the conference without a Halloween outlet. Okay, and I had a great idea for a costume: Nick would be Shaggy, I would be Daphne, and Maui would be Scooby Doo!

I told members of my chapter and other Michigan chapters to plan on dressing up, but as time went on I realized no one else was really pushing this idea—it wasn't on the AI website, itinerary, or any of the e-mails regarding the conference. The planning committee was out of its mind with last-minute tasks to finish, and the Midwest Regional Office was incredibly hectic. I decided we probably wouldn't get to wear our costumes, but I brought them just in case.

When Nick and I arrived in the reception area outside the ballroom where the concert was held, we were exhausted and running a little late. I glanced into the room and realized, to my surprise, some people actually were in costume: there was a pirate girl, a mime, and a belly dancer. As we got closer, I began to realize that they were my group mates!

"Hey, you guys dressed up!" I said adoringly.

Pirate Girl looked at me in shock. "Of course we dressed up!" she exclaimed incredulously. "YOU TOLD US TO!"

Everyone in the room, myself included, burst into laughter. I quickly turned around and pretended to leave the room, cracking up. I came back a few seconds later and caught Nick's eye.

"C'mon," I said, making to leave again.

"What?" he said, confused.

"We've got to go put on our costumes," I said.

He looked at me in disbelief. "Are you serious?" We were so tired, but there was no way I was going to make them be the only ones who dressed up because I fed them bad information. So, we trudged back to the hotel room and returned as a couple meddling kids. Unfortunately, we both forgot our cameras, but one of my group mates was able to snap a few with hers:

Nick, Maui and I dressed up as Shaggy, Daphne, and Scooby. The whole GVSU group with costumes.
That wig was a riot. We definitely caught people's attention!

As always, I left Sunday afternoon feeling refreshed. While life is speeding forward at its exhausting pace, and we feel like we're just trying to get through one day at a time while staying on top of homework, careers, and other responsibilities, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of our work. Coming together with my family of activists, some of the most insightful, creative, compassionate, selfless, admirable people I've ever met, reminds all of us that what we do is bigger than the things that distract us and stress us out.

As a sidenote, Maui and I were featured in the school newspaper on Thursday.

Also, if you're interested in subscribing to Tuesdays with Maui, send an e-mail to subscribe@tuesdayswithmaui.com! You will receive a quick e-mail whenever the site is updated, including our weekly posts. We haven't coded a button for the website, yet, but it should be coming soon!