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.

It's All In The Family

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It was a sleepy Sunday morning at Chelsi's house. After a night of staying up late, planning detailed design schemes for our future apartment together, we were both pretty reluctant to wake up. But it was almost 10 AM and my mom was due to arrive any moment to pick me up and drive me back to school.

Maui was downstairs playing with their family dog, Lulu, when Chelsi's sister came into the bedroom.

"Okay," she began indignantly. "This woman just came over and she is talking to Mom and Dad in the kitchen. She started petting Maui, so I told her 'You're not supposed to pet that dog because she's working.' And she just said, 'So I've heard,' and kept on petting her! What the heck!"

"Are you sure that's not Mary?" Chelsi asked, walking over to her window that overlooks their driveway. Verifying that the car parked below was indeed my mother's, she began to laugh. "That's Ashley's mom!" she said.

"Oh my God. I'm so embarrassed."

Laughing, I told her, "Don't be. She shouldn't be petting Maui, anyway. Good job!"

A few minutes later, my mom knocked on the door. The moment she entered, Chelsi's sister immediately apologized. "I'm so sorry, I'm so embarrassed. I didn't recognize you at all, and here I am telling you not to pet Maui!"

Chelsi and I continued to giggle.

"Oh, you really didn't recognize me?" Mom asked. "I thought you were teasing Ashley because that's what she says all the time!"

"Well good for you for telling her anyway," I said. "Apparently she needed the reminder." Mom gave a guilty smile.

People sometimes ask me whether or not I let my family pet Maui. For me, this is a very difficult situation. On the one hand, I recognize how difficult it is for my family to see Maui all the time and to not be allowed to pet her. On the other hand, the fact that family members see her so often is exactly why, in some ways, it's even more important that they respect the rules. If she starts to bond with them, it could weaken her bond with me.

For example, over the summer Nick and I spent a lot of time together. Because he helps me with her frequently—telling her to sit while we load the car, taking her out to go to the bathroom, etc.—she actually began to ignore me sometimes when I gave her commands. When Nick gave the same command, she would act immediately. So we had to cut back his interaction with her.

My mom especially struggles because she has never been a dog person and Maui is the first dog she has really grown to love. Fortunately, my family has generally been very good about not interacting with her, despite occasional lapses. For this I am very grateful. Without their cooperation and the cooperation of others, Maui and I would not work as well together as a team.

Sometimes we are so impressed by what service dogs are able to do that we forget that they are still animals. They are not Lassie. As Connie, my field trainer who helped me and Maui get familiar with each other in the beginning, used to tell me, "Dogs are opportunists."

And Maui is a Golden Opportunist.

Get it? Like "golden opportunity"? Ha!

Maui Gets A Bath

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

As I entered the bus Wednesday afternoon on my way downtown, I knew there was no avoiding a wet, muddy dog. The floor was covered with a layer of brown water, a melted, messy mixture of slush, dirt, and salt from the hundreds of shoes that had already walked the area.

For me, this is even less of a problem than it is for someone who walks. Slippery floor? Bring it on! The worst I can do is make some obnoxious squeaking sounds with my wheels. But for Maui, who usually naps on the bus, it was a different story. I knew there was no way she was going to spend two 35-minute bus rides downtown and back standing up.

She did try, though. For the first 20 minutes both ways, she either stood or sat down, leaning and swaying with every turn, bump, or change in speed, staring up at me with her big brown eyes.

Mom, it's wet. Gross.

Mom, are we there yet?

"I know," I would say to her out loud. "Ew."

Then she lay down, the long fur on her legs, tail, and tummy soaking up the dirty water. When we got off the bus, she had a dingy brown tint to her underside and a gum wrapper stuck to her thigh. Poor baby. Apparently I was right not to shell out the $40 it costs to take her to the groomer over break. Winter is the worst time to be a service dog. Even going to class makes a mess, because as Maui trots along beside me through slushy, soupy sidewalks and parking lots, inevitably her belly and her paws get soaked.

But this was ridiculous: Maui needed a bath.

And that's what she got. When my personal assistant, Heather, arrived, I told her what was in store. I just hired Heather this semester and it was her third day on the job. She was a real trooper, totally up to the task, and fortunately Maui was pretty good, too. She usually doesn't like water, but she did a nice job staying still. Every now and then she would take a few steps out of the shower and we would have to drag her back in.

Oh, and she tried to eat my shampoo, which smells like oranges. That was amusing.

I took some pictures of her big event:

Maui sitting in the shower before we began. A closeup of Maui's paws.
It's kind of hard to tell because she had started to dry off, but all that wet fur is simply from lying down on the bus.
Heather begins to bathe Maui.
Heather used my Aussie orange-scented shampoo to clean Maui up.
Maui looks at me with hope.
Maui tried to escape a few times.
Maui gets dried off with a towel. Heather finishes drying Maui off.
Getting dried off is Maui's favorite part. It's like a massage!
Maui locks her gaze at me with her head tilted.
Because she was such a good girl, Maui got a treat after her bath. This is her face when she hears the word "treat." It's a very serious face.

Now there's something more serious I want to talk about.

If all goes according to plan, posts for Tuesdays with Maui are written on Monday nights. This week, everything is going to plan: as I write this, it is Monday, January 17, Martin Luther King Day. As I reflect on this man's words, his passion, and the sacrifices he made for his vision of peace, I am astounded to consider that these events took place less than 50 years ago. From the time when segregation was the norm, we have come a long way. Most of us cannot imagine living in a world where such institutionalized hate was the norm. We shudder and cringe when we hear the poisonous diatribes of white supremacy.

But we still have a long way to go. Consider this:

  • In 2005, employed African-Americans made 65% of the wages of white Americans.
  • African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women.
  • Since 1977, 80% of death row inmates have been executed for the murder of a white victim, even though African-Americans make up approximately half of all homicide victims.
  • In the aftermath of 9/11 (2001-2003), 13,000 legal immigrants who were Arab, Muslim, or appeared to be Arab or Muslim were systematically rounded up and deported. Some were imprisoned without access to a lawyer for days or even months. Not one was convicted of terrorism.
  • As of November 2010, 174 people remained at Guantánamo. Prisoners fortunate enough to have a lawyer are rarely granted access to the evidence held against them and are tried in military courts where evidence obtained using torture is permissible. Some have been there for seven years without a hearing.
  • Michigan's Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell was suspended at the end of last year for stalking and cyber-bullying the University of Michigan student president, Chris Armstrong, for being openly gay.

The list could go on.

And as I begin my senior project, which will focus on the history of the disability rights movement and the continued effects of stigma, I am humbled to remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, only two years after I was born. Only a few pages in the history books separate me from a time when curbs didn't have ramps, public transportation didn't have lifts, and accessible public restrooms were a luxury.

And only in 2009 through the Matthew Shepard Act was the United States federal hate crime law updated to include crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Many states have yet to catch up.

This tells me that we are still in need of Dr. King's guidance. For some, justice remains elusive. And though we have made much positive change since that hot day in August when he stood on the steps of the Washington Memorial, his message is still relevant. For people my age, Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement seem like the stuff of legend. We think, not in our generation.

We still need to be reminded of "the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

We still need to heed his cautionary words, that "In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

These quotes are taken from his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Have you watched or read it recently? A few years ago on MLK Day I realized that the only part of the speech I really remembered were the words "I have a dream" and then something about all men being created equal and African-American children holding hands. So, I looked it up and I reminded myself why it is famous in the first place. If you have the time, I really encourage you to check out this video or read the speech. I think you will find yourself surprisingly rejuvenated.

Peace.

Boredom

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I almost didn't write this week because my life is so boring.

It is my last first week of classes at Grand Valley, and it has not brought the excitement one might expect from an oxymoronic title such as "last first week." I have simply been reviewing syllabi, preparing for the onslaught of reading the next 12 weeks will bring, and staring longingly at the brand-new gaming computer I bought myself which, for the most part, is going to have to wait.

So, it would have been the first time since I started Tuesdays with Maui that I simply did not write--that is, until a moment of unacknowledged interconnectedness occurred this afternoon between one bored student, another bored student, and a dog.

I had just found the classroom where my next class was to be held. This particular building is one of the older ones on campus. The classrooms are actually windowless boxes that get too hot and seem to have been designed to accommodate no more than 20 students. Undaunted by nuisances like walls and body heat, the university packs at least 30, sometimes 40, individuals into these cramped spaces. Desks are crammed in until there is literally no more room and they are pressed up against the walls.

I always sit in the front (it would be impossible for me to go any further into the room), and the professor is forced to stand so close to the students that I swear I can see up his nose.

I had an hour before my class started, so I figured I could linger in the hallway and do some reading until then. As I found a spot to back up against the wall, I noticed a girl practically hanging out of a neighboring classroom. Her desk was right next to the doorway, and her arms hung lazily off the desktop as she watched me in a daze in the hallway.

My first impulse was to be irritated that she was blatantly staring at me. I had been considering having Maui help me take off my coat by tugging on the end of my sleeve, but I don't like when people watch us because this is not her favorite task to perform. She usually tries to negotiate with me by ignoring me the first few times I give her the "sleeve" command.

But as I listened to this girl's professor ("… and I want you to put thought into these reviews. Don't just tell me the article was good or bad; I want to know why. I want you to… critical thinking… analysis… five pages…" etc.) I began to sympathize with her. Perhaps a bit presumptuously, I imagined her going home and telling her roommates about the awesome service dog she saw in the hallway while trying not to go crazy with boredom in her 12 o'clock class.

With a renewed attitude, I held out my arm to Maui. "Sleeve," I told her.

She blinked. I waited. Then I repeated myself.

"Maui, sleeve." She turned her head away from me. I tapped her gently to refocus her and gave her the command again. She sighed. Then she sniffed my sleeve. Then she stared at me with her nose in my sleeve. I couldn't help but laugh a little.

"Maui!" I said excitedly. "Sleeve!" Opening her mouth slightly, she began to take the sleeve into her mouth, but then she yawned instead. More staring.

This time I was firm. "Maui. Sleeve." She gave a final sigh before biting down on the edge of my sleeve and pulling. I shimmied out of my coat, smiling, and I stole a glance at my new friend. Her eyes no longer seemed glazed over, and she was smiling at us.

Does this count as a good deed? No, that's giving me way too much credit. However, it does go to show that even though other people can't pet Maui, she definitely has positive effects on those around her. An old friend from a previous blog post ran into me at the bookstore yesterday and told me what a pleasure it was just to see a dog around campus. And coincidentally, when the class that I was waiting for started, I sat next to a girl with whom I had another class a year ago. She was very excited to see Maui again because when she got bored she used to stare at her, and this would help her to keep her mind from wandering.

I guess I can add "entertainment" to Maui's list of skills.

Maui's New Year's Resolutions

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year! I can't tell you how excited I am to welcome 2011 because I GRADUATE THIS YEAR! I cannot wait. I will be taking some big steps (er, would it be wheel rotations in my case?) in the next coming months: finding a job and moving into an apartment with Nick, Chelsi, and Chelsi's cat, Xena, where I will actually have to pay for things, grocery shop on a weekly basis… share my room with a boy! *horror music* (Just kidding, I love that boy.)

As for Maui, she has some transitions to look forward to, as well: more bus rides, less running from building to building… sharing an apartment with a cat! *horror music* (Just kidding, Maui loves cats.)

To help her embrace another year, I have helped her draft a set of New Year's Resolutions.

MAUI'S NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS

  • Remember that hardwood and tile floors do not give good traction.
  • Solicit more belly rubs.
  • Learn to open the container on the counter that holds the treats. I'm the freaking "Navy SEAL" of dogs, okay? I've got this.
  • Remind Ashley to bring dog food if I see her packing a bag. Just in case.
  • Refuse to pick up Ashley's phone or keys when she drops them repeatedly for audience entertainment. I am NOT her performing monkey.
  • Try to get a handle on my snoring and sleep barking in class.
  • More play dates with Lola and Lulu.
  • More Golden Grumbling = more attention!

Coincidentally, "solicit more belly rubs" was on my list of New Year's resolutions, too—we have so much in common!

Maui and I also reflected on the past year and came up with some highs and lows of 2010:

MAUI'S LOWS OF 2010

  • Being pet by a nurse at the hospital while Dad was recovering from his stroke. (On the bright side, because Ashley let "The Patient" pet me, I got to test out being a Therapy Dog! Maybe when I retire….)
  • Ashley forgetting to put my heartworm medicine in my food and Chelsi sticking it on my tongue, holding my mouth shut, and rubbing my throat to make me swallow it. Yuck!
  • Lunging for chicken thrown by an employee at the cafeteria. It was a moment of weakness.
  • Discovering my iris cyst.

MAUI'S HIGHS OF 2010

  • Launching Tuesdays with Maui and connecting with so many readers.
  • Reuniting with Dianna and the rest of the family—what a happy day! I thought my tail would fall off it was wagging so hard!
  • New squeaky toys.
  • Being recognized as a Golden Retriever with my short summer haircut in Florida, where people probably trim their dogs' fur more regularly (at home, some people make fun of my summer haircut!)
  • Breathing the fresh air and smelling the scents of the wilderness at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
  • Meeting Mari at the Grand Teton and showing off my skills!
  • BELLY RUBS!!
  • Performing for two campus organizations this semester: the Physical Therapy Club and Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity.
  • Meeting Woolly.

Since the second list is significantly longer than the first, I'd have to say we didn't do so bad. And we were recently informed that Maui's mom, Phoebe, just gave birth to her "S" litter! Maui now has seven new sisters and two new brothers:

Maui's mother with a new litter of puppies.

It seems we are off to a good start, 2011!