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.

Would You Cure Your Disability?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This morning, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis (a program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine) officially announced it has received FDA approval to begin a clinical study involving the transplant of patients' own Schwann cells to treat new spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis. The goal of the study is to show that the transplant process—the actual injection into the site of injury and the introduction of the Schwann cells—is safe and does not present new complications. Once this is demonstrated, the Miami Project hopes to be able to move forward with other clinical trials involving Schwann cells.

Diagram of a nerve cell. Schwann cells wrap around the axons of sensory-motor neurons to create the myelin sheath, which makes nerve conduction possible. Understandably, scientists at the Miami Project believe these cells have a crucial role to play in discovering a cure for paralysis. But the study also has implications for people with diseases of the peripheral nervous system (which is everything but the brain and spinal cord)—people such as yours truly.

So, people with disabilities: if a cure were discovered tomorrow, would you take it?

The question always resurfaces with announcements like these. Well, it does for me, anyway. There's no doubt in my mind that one day we will be able to cure paralysis and other disabilities (assuming a superior alien race doesn't wipe us out first, but don't get me started on that). Will it happen in my lifetime? Probably not. The Miami Project's announcement is not as earth-shattering as it may first appear. Essentially, the goal is to demonstrate that the procedure is safe so that if and when we learn how Schwann cells can be used to cure paralysis, we know we can do so without causing more problems. It's a significant advancement, to be sure, but one to be understood carefully.

But what a provocative question: if a cure were discovered in my lifetime, would I accept it?

Many people with disabilities predict their answer would be no. They are adamant that having a disability is such an integral part of their identity that to accept a cure would be to deny who they are. Disability is a natural example of human diversity, the reasoning goes, and the negative aspects of living with a disability are rooted in discrimination and oppression. It is society's fault for designing inaccessible buildings and gadgets. It is society's fault for expecting so little of us. We shouldn't want to change this trait of ours any more than we should want to change the color of our skin.

And this is true in a lot of ways. Put stairs in front of a door and only ambulatory people are able to enter. Put a ramp in front of that door and the ambulatory and wheelchair user can enter. Now, who is disabled in this situation, if both are able to go through the door? Often, it is the environment that disables people, whether we are referring to physical or attitudinal barriers. The solution tends to be obvious but difficult to achieve.

Still, in a utopian society where all physical and attitudinal barriers are removed, many people with disabilities are still left with underlying health concerns that are simply not caused by society. Chronic pain, decreased lifespan, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, loss of sensation, internal organ weakness or failure, loss of bladder and bowel control. All the ramps in the world won't make these go away.

Now, before you run for your Kleenex (or perhaps you prefer Puffs?), let me be clear: it is absolutely, positively possible to mitigate the effects of disability and to lead a happy, healthy, productive, fulfilling life. For most people with disabilities, it's such a part of our routine that, between work, family, watching the news, bad hair days, etc., disability is not even the most stressful part of our day.

But there's no need to romanticize. I'd take the cure.

…Then again, you can also put me down for superhuman upgrades—ability to see infrared with the naked eye, heroic strength, invisibility cloaking technology, sonic boom barking for Maui, you name it. The aliens are coming, so we need to be ready.

Maui Sparks Controversy at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Amnesty International works on a number of controversial topics: torture, the death penalty, and LGBT rights, to name a few. So when someone approaches our table hoping to put us in our place, I'm expecting it to be about one of these issues. But at the Ann Arbor Art Fair last week, it turns out Maui was the most controversial subject.

The Art Fair ran from Wednesday to Saturday, and every day except for Thursday was very, very hot. I knew this would probably be the case, so on the days that I worked the booth I filled an empty two liter Mountain Dew bottle with water for Maui. I brought a plastic bowl and made sure it was always full and accessible to her, and I showed her to the shady area underneath our table.

We got our fair share of snarky comments as people passed by. "Your dog is beautiful! I bet it's too hot for her out here…" or "Hi buddy! You want to go home, don't you?" or "Oh! He is so cute… I hope his paws are okay…."

One woman decided to ditch any pretense of subtlety. "Your dog is panting very hard," she snarled. "She doesn't have any shade under there!"

Maui was lying underneath the table panting at a perfectly normal rate, but the woman was right about the shade. "You know, I just noticed about two minutes ago that the sun moved," I told her truthfully. "She had a nice shady spot under there, but you're right, it's not shady anymore. I was just looking for a better spot for her."

"But she is panting very hard," she said angrily, pointing at Maui.

"She has plenty of water," Nick (who just so happened to be sitting with me when this went down) responded.

"And like I said," I repeated, "it was shady under there a moment ago—"

"Well it's not shady anymore!" she yelled. "Your dog is going to die of heat stroke!"

"She's not going to die of heat stroke," I said, making it clear that I thought the idea was absurd. "Yes, she's panting, but she has plenty of water and she isn't showing any other signs of distress. Her ears are forward, she—"

"YOU need to check your facts about dogs and heat!" she spat.

Nick laughed softly as she marched away. "'You need to check your facts, because I certainly don't have any,'" he mocked.

Honestly. Panting is analogous to humans sweating. Dogs pant not only when they are hot, but also after a minor workout or when they are anxious. It was as if she had approached a sweaty person and said, "You're going to die of heat stroke!"

By the way, here are some facts about heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include:

  • excessive panting
  • difficulty breathing
  • thick saliva
  • excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • bright red tongue
  • dry or tacky gums
  • whining, barking, or other signs of distress
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea, sometimes with blood
  • physical signs of exhaustion (i.e., difficulty standing, collapse, loss of consciousness)

Small dogs, older dogs, long-haired dogs, and dogs with short faces are at a higher risk of heat stroke. Long-haired dogs should have their fur cut to about an inch (check). All dogs should be provided with access to plenty of water (check) and a shady, ventilated area (check).

Who would have thought that Maui would be the most controversial element at the Amnesty International booth?

There's no way I'd let my baby reach the point of heat stroke. I do appreciate that people were concerned, though, so I told anyone who stopped to make comments that Maui had plenty of water and shade and that I was keeping a very close eye on her to make sure the pavement wasn't hurting her feet. When the pavement is too hot, I can tell because she doesn't stand still. She sort of dances from foot to foot, and I get her to cooler ground immediately. This actually did happen on Saturday, so I ended up taking her home.

And on Friday, Maui's newest friend, Murphy (see play date with Murphy) joined us while we browsed the Art Fair with friends. Because he's a little dog, he was only able to walk in shady sections. He spent the majority of the afternoon riding comfortably in my lap. It made for an interesting social experiment: Maui—who usually inspires all sorts of comments from the crowd—was suddenly not the center of attention.

"Oh my gosh! Look at that dog! He's so cute!" people would say, only they were pointing at Murphy, now. One person added, "Oh, the big one is cute, too…." Can you imagine?! Maui, an afterthought! When people came up to ask me how my dog was, I had to realize they were interested in Murphy, not Maui! And when they asked if they could pet him, I could actually say yes.

Here are some photos from the week:

Maui at my side and Murphy on my lap near the Amnesty International booth. Maui naps under the table at the booth, right below the Amnesty International banner. Maui's art fair supplies: a two liter of water, a bowl, and a Nylabone. Maui squints in the sun in front of the booth, wearing her yellow Amnesty International bandana.

Maui Tries out Her Booties

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A medium-sized chunk of brown glass. A few weeks ago as I was taking Maui out at night, I noticed that the sidewalk was glittering in the street lights. I halted immediately and took a closer look. The source: shards of glass ranging from smaller than a pea to the size of a quarter. Someone had obviously cleaned up a broken bottle recently, but they didn't do a very good job.

Then, I started to look around and I realized there was glass everywhere. Small bits left over from other inadequate cleanup jobs. I looked at Maui, who stood perfectly still sniffing the night air, seemingly unaware that we were standing in the middle of a bona fide minefield. The worst of it was that we were on the only ramped section of pavement near our building—the sole path I can take out of my apartment.

I usually zip along at a pretty good pace (about the speed of a light jog), but I proceeded slowly, guiding Maui around shards of glass. The area is right in front of a store that shares our building, so the next morning I spoke to an employee about sweeping the sidewalk. The man I spoke to was very friendly and understanding. He grabbed a broom and asked me to show him the area. As he was sweeping, he asked me to talk to my leasing manager to determine whose responsibility it is to clear the sidewalk, since the building is shared by multiple parties. "If it's us, no problem," he told me. "I just want to make sure." (I have asked my leasing manager, and he needs to check with "the board." Stay tuned.)

Regardless, after a couple weeks of this, I am actually not sure if sweeping is much of a solution. Even though our friend from the store below did a fine job cleaning up, it did not take long for more glass to appear. I find new pieces every day or two, thanks to the bar at the end of the street, I suspect.

Shards of glass litter the sidewalk and have been circled in red. There are thirteen spots circled in this small area.
Another image of glass shards. Seven areas are circle here.

One day, another thought occurred to me. Years ago I bought Maui dog booties to protect her feet from the icy slush that covered our trail to classes at Grand Valley. Every now and then I would notice that she was reluctant to put a foot down because the frozen mixture was causing discomfort. The booties didn't stay on very well, though, and since she didn't often show signs of distress, they were put in a drawer somewhere and they never got used.

A few nights ago, I remembered them and thought they might be worth trying, just to see if they could be used. Perhaps I had put them on wrong last time or something. So, we tried them on and well… I got it on video for you.

Okay, so she obviously felt awkward wearing them in the beginning. I think she could get used to them, but even so, they fall off way too easily—something we discovered when we had her wear them around the apartment. Within a half-hour, the two back booties were off.

However, after a little research I discovered that there are all sorts of shoe options for pooches (including some "high fashion" shoes for the dog with a sense of humor). It turns out that people who take their dogs along for intense outdoor activities (running, hiking, etc.) sometimes need to protect their dogs' feet from various terrains. In addition to guarding Maui's feet from sharp glass shards, high-quality shoes that fit her well could also keep her from scorching her feet on hot pavement or from getting uncomfortably cold in the snow this winter. And oh my goodness, are there options. In the "high fashion" realm, there are sandals, sneakers, and rain boots that look like rubber galoshes. In the more sporty, practical realm, there are shoes with fancy mesh to allow ventilation in the summer, waterproof shoes for trekking through rain and puddles, and very warm-looking winter boots that go several inches above the paw.

What do you think, Tuesdays with Maui readers? Has anyone ever put their dog in shoes?

Thundershirt: Success!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oh, that face. The face when she realizes I'm not following her into the laundry room. The door is closing, and she strains her neck so that she can continue making eye contact as the narrow opening gets smaller and smaller. On some level she must have known the stakes were high, because she made the decision to dash through the opening at the last possible moment, running to my side with her tail wagging nervously.

"You know, she should probably be upstairs in my bathroom, anyway," I told my mom, "with the fan on to drown out the noise."

"Do you want me to put her up there?"

"Sure," I said.

"Maui, come!" my mom called. Maui wagged her tail faster, more nervously, and she leaned toward me.

"Go get her!" I said. "Go through." She did as she was told, but she did not want to. She was acting like she does when I leave her at the groomer's. I headed in the opposite direction while I heard my mom coaxing Maui up the stairs. She did finally get her up there, but someone was already in the bathroom, and Maui took the opportunity to run back down the stairs and stick herself to my side like Velcro.

Should I just take her on the boat with me?

She was already wearing her Thundershirt, but I still wasn't sure if it would work. When we went out on the boat to watch fireworks at Nick's aunt and uncle's a few days beforehand, I left her at the house, but I put the Thundershirt on her just in case. Obviously, I wasn't able to observe the effect it had, if any. The next night, while we were sitting out on the patio, someone was shooting fireworks off in the distance. Maui started cowering under the table, so we put the Thundershirt on her right away. I definitely noticed a difference. Instead of hiding under things or going straight for the door, panting with her ears back, she showed a mild curiosity but, for the most part, ignored any booming. Her ears were relaxed or perked, and there was no panting.

I decided to go for it. She didn't want to stay home, and I figured this way we would know for sure whether we could start bringing her on the boat. Besides, even though I wasn't positive, I thought there was a pretty good chance that the Thundershirt was a success.

"I'm just going to take her with me," I announced. On the boat, I told everyone, "I would just like to apologize in advance if this is the saddest fireworks show you've ever watched due to the miserable dog on board, but I think it's going to work."

And it did, for the most part. The first firework spooked her a little bit because she thought it was coming at her, and she literally backed away from it. But after that, she stood next to me while I pet her. Her ears were relaxed, she accepted treats (when she's really terrified, she can't even be convinced to enjoy a treat), and for most of the time she was not panting, although she did pant a little bit at the end as they began shooting off more fireworks at once. At one point she also wandered to the back of the boat and climbed onto the seat next to someone. We got the hint that she needed more cuddling and let her up on the seat with us after that. Occasionally I could feel her shiver, so I know she wasn't totally relaxed. But compared to her typical reaction when she hears fireworks that are not even so loud, I was pretty impressed with how calm she remained.

Here's some video footage we took of her during the fireworks. Notice how, although she looks alert when a firework goes off, she is certainly not cowering or showing other typical signs of distress.

Later that very night, there was a thunderstorm. At the first clap, she was in our bed with her ears back, so we put the Thundershirt on again. This time, she curled up on the floor and slept through the night.

My overall conclusions? It's not a magic shirt. When the fireworks are right there, up close and personal, Maui is still a little timid. But her anxiety is much, much more manageable. And when the booming is in the distance, she is actually able to forget the noise. I'm pretty happy with it. And it was recommended by a reader/Facebook fan! (Unfortunately, I can't remember who suggested it, so a big fat public thank you to that kind soul!)

Speaking of Facebook, did you see this picture? Adorable!

Bentley, the black and white King Charles Spaniel owned by Nick's aunt and uncle, sits on my lap in a tiny Fourth of July top hat, while Maui sits next to us with a giant hat completely covering her face.

Happier Fourth of July?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, Maui's least favorite holiday. Typically she spends the day running around our boat whimpering because she wants to be with me in the water but she's too afraid to get in. Alternatively, I left her at home one year, but I'm convinced trading one form of separation for another is just as emotionally draining for her, anyway. After a brief reprieve while everyone eats dinner, she is then subjected to a horrifying fireworks display. The only way to shield her from this trauma is to put her in my bathroom at my mom's house, where there are no windows. Turn the fan on, turn the radio on, leave a dish of fresh water and a brand-new Nyla bone, and the night really isn't so bad.

But it's always better if there is a solution that allows us to be together.

This year, I'm hoping the Thundershirt will be the answer. It's a jacket that is meant to calm dogs in anxiety-provoking situations by applying a soothing pressure around their middle, just behind their front legs. I bought it about a month and a half ago, but we really haven't had any big thunderstorms in order to test it out. We had one last night, but I slept through it—sorry, Maui!

Maui lies on a towel on the bathroom floor getting her paw blow-dried.
Maui at the "spa."

This week should provide lots of opportunities to try it out. We will be spending the week with Nick's family up north on Lake Michigan, where I'm sure we will get at least some firework action. If not, we will be back in time to catch Saturday evening's festivities on the lake where I grew up. We know Maui has actually started to enjoy swimming, so the boating portion of the day should be a lot more fun for her. Maybe this will also be the first year she can actually enjoy the Fourth of July show—er, maybe not enjoy, but at least not have a panic attack because of it.

Even if she is still afraid of fireworks while wearing the Thundershirt, I know she's going to have fun this week. Yesterday, our groomer came over and gave her a summer haircut. (NOTE: Any family members reading who have complained about the summer haircut please pay close attention to this next part.) Maui loves it. It seems like she has had more energy and she has been in a better mood today. She certainly wasn't panting so hard after going outside this morning, when it was still ridiculously hot. AND I've already gotten two comments from people on the street who know what's up:

"That looks like a Golden who just got his summer haircut!"

and

"We just got our Golden shaved for the summer, too. It's just so hot out there."

So, I know Maui will be as cool and as comfortable as possible this week. Also, she's going to have a friend to play with. Nick's grandmother has a little guy named Woolly (you may remember him from Saturday Morning Play Date). It's been a couple years since the two of them have played together, so we are excited to see him.

Overall, we are looking forward to a fun, relaxing, less anxiety-ridden Fourth of July. We wish you the same!