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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why can't I pet Maui?

A: In order to retain her VIP status, Maui must be on her best behavior at all times. If she thinks that everyone in the room is allowed to pet her, she will get excited and want to approach anyone she sees. But through her training, she has learned that others are not going to pet her. So, when we go out in public, she is calm and well-behaved. She does not seek attention from other people, which is important because not everyone likes dogs. Some people are allergic, some are afraid, and certain cultural and religious practices may limit someone from touching dogs. In a public space, it is the owner's responsibility to make sure his or her dog is minding its manners.

Knowing other people aren't going to pet her also keeps Maui focused and strengthens her bond with me. For example, when we go to the mall, if other shoppers were allowed to give her affection and I dropped my wallet, there would be no incentive for her to pick it up for me when I tell her to. Affection is a form of reward (indeed, for super cuddly dogs it is just as enticing as a treat!), and she would know that she can get rewarded by others for doing nothing. That would be a better opportunity than picking up my wallet. Maui's first priority is helping me when I need her, and receiving affection from other people distracts her from this job.

This rule is very difficult for dog-lovers to follow. Maui is incredibly cute and friendly, and it's unusual to be around a dog that you are not allowed to pet. But by not interacting with service dogs, you are doing more than following the rules. You are making a contribution to her training. Without everyone's cooperation, service animals could not exist.

Q: Why does Maui wear a vest? Can I pet her when she's not wearing it?

A: Maui wears a blue vest when she's in public to signify that she is a service animal. This lets business owners and others know that she is allowed by law to accompany me to public locations. The vest includes three patches. Two are Paws with a Cause (the organization that trained her) logos. Many people are familiar with this organization and its dogs, especially in the state of Michigan where it is headquartered. The third patch is located on Maui's back and reads "Please don't pet me, I'm working." This is to let others know that she is on-the-job and should not be receiving attention from anyone else. Very few people notice this sign until they have already gone in for a pat!

Some organizations use a vest to distinguish between when a dog is working and when it is not working. Therefore, a lot of people have heard that when a dog is not wearing the vest it is free to play with other people. This is not how Paws with a Cause has trained its dogs. For Maui, "working" and "not working" are human terms. The tasks she does for me are a game from her perspective, and she is happy to do them whether she is wearing her vest or she is naked. In fact, many of the things she helps me with are in my home when she is in the nude.

Maui does not know the difference between working and not working. She is simply a well-trained dog, and regardless of how she is dressed, no one besides me is allowed to interact with her—even my closest friends and family must follow this rule. If you see a service dog, you should always ask its owner before giving it affection. Most likely, the answer will be no, though there are some who choose to be more lenient than I am.

Q: Okay, so I can't pet Maui. Can I talk to her?

A: It depends. When Maui is very excited, especially if you have just approached us, cooing voices are only going to make her more excited. It can be worse than petting her because she assumes from your tone that you're going to play with her. If you must talk to a service dog, you should wait until it is calm and make sure that you are not causing a distraction.

Generally, I tell people that there is no petting or interacting with Maui.

Q: This sounds awful! Dogs are meant to be played with. Certainly she's unhappy.

A: Most dogs would love to be able to go everywhere with their humans, and Maui is very happy that she gets to spend her day by my side instead of sitting home alone while I'm in school. Although no one else is allowed to interact with her, she is constantly getting attention from me. I pet Maui while I'm in class, waiting in line, chatting with friends, or whatever else I may be doing. She gets just as much love and affection as the average dog, if not more. The only difference is that it comes from a single person.

Q: What does Maui do to help you? Is that a personal question?

A: For me, this is not a personal question, but for some people it can be. It is a good idea to keep this in mind if you ask someone about what tasks his or her service dog performs.

Retrieving items I have dropped is the most important thing Maui does for me. It sounds simple, but when you drop your keys in the dead of winter and are unable to reach them, or you drop your cell phone and no one is around, it can make all the difference. She can help me remove a coat or jacket by tugging on the end of the sleeve with her teeth, and she also opens and closes doors (including industrial doors and the refrigerator) using special straps. She has even been trained to retrieve a water bottle or a can of pop from the fridge even while I'm sitting across the room, but I prefer to do this on my own.

Q: How long did you have to wait before you got Maui?

A: After I submitted my application, a representative from PAWS came to my home to do a video assessment. Once I was accepted as a client, I spent eleven months on the waiting list before they began training Maui for me. On average, people wait two years, so I was very fortunate. She continued her training for another four months before she came to live with me in October of 2008.

Q: What other kinds of service dogs are there?

A: Dogs can be trained to perform a variety of helpful tasks. Service dogs can be big or small, any breed (although certain breeds are more common than others), and they may work for someone whose disability is not immediately apparent. It is important to remember that just because someone does not have mobility problems does not mean they are simply training their dog or that their reasons for having a dog are not justified. Here is a brief list of several types of service dogs and how they help:

  • Hearing dogs: These dogs are often smaller breeds, such as puggles. They alert their hearing-impaired owners to sounds such as an alarm clock, a baby crying, a smoke alarm, a doorbell ringing, or the person's name being called.

  • Leader dogs: These dogs are typically larger breeds, and are the most well known kind of service dog (I have been asked several times if I'm blind). They help guide their visually impaired owners through unfamiliar locations and can be trained to stop at street corners when there are cars coming.

  • Seizure dogs: These dogs provide comfort to people with seizure disorders, for instance by lying on the individual's chest during an episode. They can be trained to call 911, and some dogs develop the ability to sense when its owner is going to have a seizure before it hits, though it is not understood how they are able to do this and therefore cannot be trained for this skill.

  • Dogs for kids with autism: These dogs help keep children with autism from getting too far from their parents. They also teach certain life skills. For example, the child is responsible for brushing the dog and is therefore taught to brush his or her own hair.

  • Psychiatric dogs: These dogs assist individuals with psychiatric disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, hallucinations, etc. by directing its owner away from certain signals or reminding him or her to take medication.

  • Emotional support dogs: These dogs provide companionship and therapeutic relief to individuals with certain emotional disorders. They do not have the same access to public facilities as do other service dogs, but they may live in areas which typically do prohibit dogs and are allowed on airplanes.

Have another question? Email us at feedback@tuesdayswithmaui.com