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Glendale woman hears through her Chihuahua's ears

Rescued dog trained in Oregon proves invaluable as an assistant to a hearing-impaired resident.

April 29, 2012|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com
  • Judy Springborn works with Apple Pie, a Chihuahua mix, at her Glendale home. Springborn is hearing-impaired and the small dog assists her with daily activities around the home.
Judy Springborn works with Apple Pie, a Chihuahua mix,… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Judy Springborn's Apple Pie would put others to shame, and not because of some top-secret recipe.

Apple Pie is actually a 6-pound Chihuahua-mix that helps the 72-year-old deaf Glendale resident with daily living, following five months of training in Oregon after being saved from being euthanized at an animal shelter in Fresno.

Apple Pie moved into Springborn's home on Tuesday, her second “hearing dog” acquired through Dogs for the Deaf, an Oregon-based organization.

It almost didn't happen.

Months ago, an animal shelter in Fresno nearly euthanized Apple Pie after taking her in as a stray. But a shelter employee who noticed the dog's confidence and social skills alerted her friend Emily Minah, a trainer at Dogs for the Deaf.

Minah has spent the last five months training Apple Pie at the organization's headquarters in Central Point, Ore. On Tuesday, Minah handed the 6-pound helper over to Springborn after five days of training at her home.

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Springborn paid just $1 for her.

“A lot of people, when they think ‘assistance dog' they have the picture of the larger dog,” Minah said. “Hearing dogs can be all shapes and sizes because of the nature of what they're doing when they're alerting to the sound.”

An alarm clock, a knock at the door or oven timer — Apple Pie's job is to find Springborn when sounds occur, place two front paws on her and wait for acknowledgment. She will then lead Springborn to the source of the sound. Apple Pie knows to jump on Springborn if the house alarm is activated.

Springborn grew up in Los Feliz and has lived in Glendale for 37 years. For the last 20, she has taught ceramics in Burbank.

She lost her hearing gradually after college and quit depending on it in the 1980s.

In 2003, after two unsuccessful surgeries and one that left her face partially paralyzed, Springborn received a cochlear implant. With just 5% of her hearing intact before the surgery, she said she had been accustomed to lip reading.

Even with the implant, her ability to hear is minimal.

“My brain had to learn these sounds again,” she said.

“At first, I couldn't tell the difference between a lawn mower and somebody talking. It was just this awful noise.”

During the stressful, months-long adjustment period, she took refuge at Descanso Gardens. Two years later, she could tell the difference between her husband's voice and her son's.

With Apple Pie, Springborn is more comfortable in public, she said, joking that with a service dog, as opposed to without one, people tend to go out of their way to assist her.

Reflecting on what could have been Apple Pie's demise in Fresno, Springborn smiled as she set the dog down.

“Here she is. What a gift.”

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