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.

Ear Infection Update

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sorry I didn't write last week!

Before graduating, I agreed to work on a project with one of my professors. I'm writing a brief biography about Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it's due at the end of the month. Since it's going to be published, I'm a little bit nervous! So I've been working on it every waking moment.

I turn it in on Friday, so by next week I should be back with more exciting tales of Maui. Unfortunately, this entry is going to have to be brief—just a quick update on her ear infection.

Maui's ear infection is looking better in her left ear, and the vet told us that it is completely gone in the right one (which was the awful one). But she still has some redness, and she has a pretty painful-looking open sore just underneath it from scratching. We are putting on an anti-inflammatory agent to try to keep it from bothering her.

In other news, I have decided to finally add my paper that I wrote for my senior project to the site. It is entitled After the ADA: The Salience of Stigma in the Lives of People with Disabilities. The first part traces the history of the Disability Rights Movement, culminating in the landmark civil rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act. The second part explores how stigma, perpetuated by language and media portrayals, continues to impact the lives of people with disabilities: their self-esteem, their sexuality, and their physical and financial well-being. I also include my own personal experiences throughout the paper.

I mean, since this was such a short entry, you do have extra reading time… ;)

Maui's Worst Ear Infection

June 14, 2011

"Okay, first of all, I just want to say that I think Maui is my favorite dog that has been brought through here in, like, a week." The veterinary assistant spoke to us in the waiting room from behind her clipboard. She had just taken Maui down the hall to examine her ear for the worst ear infection she has ever had. "She is just so sweet," she continued, "and frankly, you just might have a hard time getting her back from me. She's like, 'My ear is killing me, but the grass is green and the sun is shining!'"

I laughed. I could just picture my giddy Golden, her tail swishing back and forth violently, excited to be in a new place with new people who were mysteriously allowed to interact with her. Even the terrible ear infection couldn't dampen her positive, friendly spirit.

Maui's appointment had been scheduled for Friday, but I called Thursday morning to see if they could see her that afternoon instead. "I have never seen her ear so swollen," I explained to the woman on the phone who had just finished telling me that all of the vet's appointments were booked but that she may be able to see us between surgeries. "And it's smelling. Badly. I can smell her ear from over a foot away."

Graciously, our vet agreed to see us that afternoon. For now, her assistant was asking me about Maui's history. I told her that Maui used to get infections quite frequently, until she was diagnosed with food allergies. Once we switched her food from chicken and beef to salmon, she only had one flare up, and it was because I was still feeding her milk bone treats (which, of course, contain chicken meal).

This recent episode I couldn't explain, but both of her ears were infected. Her right one was the worst. Her ear flap was thick and red, and the tissue just below the entrance to her ear canal had swollen to at least twice its normal size. And it had a sickening smell that had forced me to breathe through my mouth whenever I got close to Maui.

"Well, we swabbed her ear, and it looks like the infection is both bacterial and yeast. We are cleaning it out right now, and we shaved away some of the fur from the right ear because that was probably irritating her. The vet will be out in just a couple minutes to talk to you about treatment."

Nick and I continue to wait, brushing up on our feline facts and history from a cheesy book called Cat-a-logue we had found on one of the tables. Moments later, Dr. Rode approached us and introduced herself.

Then she said with a smile, "Well, obviously, Maui is very cute."

I laughed. "We get that a lot."

She explained that we were to put in two different kinds of ear drops, one in the morning and one in the evening, for ten days. To be on the safe side, she would like to see us back in two weeks. "We already put in both for today," she said, "but I wanted to explain all of this to you before we brought her out to you. I figured she will probably get pretty excited."

"Probably a good idea," I said.

We thanked her for agreeing to see us on such short notice, and the assistant brought Maui back to us. As she trotted across the room toward us, her head tilted to her right side, she would twitch slightly every now and then, trying to resist shaking her head. Ear drops must feel so funny.

It has been five days now, and she is feeling much better. Her ear is no longer red, it smells better, and the swelling has gone way down. But the whole episode has made me afraid to give her any kind of store bought treats. Almost all of the kinds found in stores that are fish flavored still have chicken or beef meal in them. And while we were in the waiting room, I decided to look the ingredients of the prescription treats we were giving her, and sure enough, the second ingredient is hydrolyzed chicken liver. I don't know if this was the cause of her infection, but from now on I will be making my own dog treats.

I have already made her some that contain apple, honey, a pinch of cinnamon, oatmeal, and whole wheat flour. I am happy because I can read all of the ingredients in the recipe and it does not contain any mysterious chicken parts!

And Maui… will be happy, too, next time. When I don't burn the treats.

Hey, it was my first time.

Why Are You in a Wheelchair?!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Hey, why are you in a wheelchair?!"

A little voice rang out across the parking lot. Nick laughed as he locked the door behind us.

"Are you paralyzed?!"

I squinted in the sunlight and spotted the peanut gallery: two boys and two girls, probably around the age of eight or nine years old, lounging on a patch of grass across the street. We were running late to meet Nick's parents for dinner, but I decided this needed attention. Putting on a smile, I crossed the street toward the kids, not yet sure how I was going to handle the situation.

I have been dealing with kids' unfiltered curiosity since I was very young. Often, when I was out shopping with my mom or at the movies with friends, kids would openly stare at me. When I walked, I used to pick up my feet higher than someone who is able to walk normally (kind of like Shaggy from Scooby Doo). I also had poor balance, so I usually held someone else's hand or leaned on walls or nearby objects to help steady myself. Not used to seeing someone move like this, young children would sometimes ask questions loudly: "Mommy, why does she walk like that?"

"Shh!" the mother would say, grabbing the child's hand and pulling in the opposite direction.

I remember weaving through racks of clothing, trying to get away from my rude inquisitor. At that age, I understood that they were young, curious, and had no thoughts of how such questions could embarrass someone. But I was also young, and I instantly felt ashamed and sorry for myself. Angry with the obstinate child, I just wanted to disappear. I desperately hoped no one else had overheard.

Now that I'm older, this doesn't happen as often because I use a wheelchair, and children are more accustomed to seeing wheelchairs. But there are still incidents, and it still makes me very uncomfortable. Although I am much more secure with who I am and much more accepting of my disability, these questions thrust me into the spotlight. Anyone who overhears waits nervously for my reaction, and parents, if they are present, are unsure of whether they should let me respond or whether they should respond themselves.

In the beginning of college I was exposed to the argument that we should welcome children's curiosity about disability. We should see these awkward moments as an opportunity to teach kids that people with disabilities aren't any different from them. Furthermore, scolding them for asking questions loudly, hushing them and pulling them away from the situation, teaches them that disabilities are something that should not be openly discussed.

For a few years I accepted this, but I was and am still uncomfortable in these situations. In fact, seeing kids in public would sometimes make me nervous.

Later, while writing my senior paper, I read a counterargument from a disability scholar. She points out that there are lots of instances in which we do not indulge our children's curiosity, such as when their safety is at risk or when we are trying to teach them a lesson about personal boundaries. It's not that their questions are necessarily inappropriate; it's that they have potentially made a perfect stranger uncomfortable. This may be the case especially for someone who acquired their disability through a tragic experience. For someone who was, say, in a car accident which also took the life of a loved one, a child's public interrogation may be quite emotionally painful.

This scholar's point helped me understand that I am not being immature or unreasonable when children make a spectacle out of me and I become uncomfortable, even though I am fully aware that it is not their intention to embarrass me. It is one thing if the child knows me already, as when a cousin or friend of my little sister's blurts out a question. However, when kids I have never met before start firing personal questions at me from across the parking lot, I feel that I have a right to gently point out to them that they are misbehaving.

Still, I was afraid that they would think I was being mean to them, or that they would start teasing me. Really, you just never know what kids might say. So, I was pretty nervous when I reached the other side of the street.

"Hey guys, how are you?" I asked them. "What are your names?"

"You know me!" one of the girls said with a coy smile. It's true, I admitted, I had met her before, but I had not met the others who had been doing the shouting. As it turns out, I never did learn their names, because one of the boys was particularly anxious to have his questions answered.

"Why are you in a wheelchair?" he asked impatiently.

"Look, you guys, that's not just something you ask somebody you don't know," I told them. "That's a personal question. You have to be friends with someone before you ask questions like that." Four pairs of eyes were now locked on me. They were unsure what to do next, and, frankly, so was I. "Now, I will tell you about myself because I don't mind, but really you should know people before you ask those kinds of questions." I paused, trying to decide how many details I wanted to give them about my disability. "I was born with my disability, but I still have lots of fun," I told them.

"Can I pet your dog?" the girl that I didn't know asked, standing up and reaching out even as she asked the question.

"No, I'm sorry, she's working." The girl sat back down.

"Why can't you pet the dog when it's working?" asked the boy.

"Because I don't want her to be distracted. She goes everywhere with me, and if she thinks everyone can pet her, she's only going to want to play. Like right now, I'm going to a restaurant —" I was interrupted before I could get to the part where I explained that I was running late and I needed to leave.

"Is that your boyfriend?" asked the other boy.

"Yes."

"Why do you need her to help you?" asked the first boy, pointing toward Maui.

"Well, for instance, if I drop something she could pick it up for me," I began to explain. "And —"

"What if you dropped a glass?" wondered the girl.

"Um," I stammered. I was overwhelmed by questions and trying to imagine a situation in which I might drop a glass without someone else there (I typically drink from water bottles or plastic cups). "Well, she can pick up most things, but I guess there are some things that she doesn't pick up…."

"Did you ever walk?" interrupted the first boy.

"Yes," I said distractedly, now acutely aware of the fact that I was very late.

"I know someone who uses things to help her walk," the second boy informed me.

"Crutches?" I offered.

"Yeah, crutches," he said.

"Why can't you walk anymore?" asked the first boy.

"Hey, I'll tell you what," I said, suppressing my laughter. "The next time you see me outside, if you want to come over and talk to me I can answer your questions, but right now I'm late and I have to get going."

"Okay," he said.

Nick was waiting for me at the van, and as I approached we shared a smile. I recounted my chat with the kids for him, laughing at how they overwhelmed me with their questions. I'm happy with the way I handled the situation because I was able to both talk to them about personal boundaries and about disabilities. Clearly, since they continued asking so many questions, they do not think of disabilities as a topic that is off-limits. But they may think twice before shouting their questions across a parking lot.