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Chihuahua mix becomes Glendale woman's 'ears'

April 30, 2012 | 11:24 am

Judy Springborn works with Apple Pie, a Chihuahua mix, at her Glendale homeFor Judy Springborn, her Apple Pie is a blessing from heaven.

Apple Pie, a 6-pound Chihuahua mix, may feel the same way about Springborn.

The tiny dog, rescued from a Fresno animal shelter and put through five months of training, helps the 72-year-old deaf Glendale resident with daily living.

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

It almost didn't happen.

Months ago, Apple Pie was scheduled to be euthanized, having been taken in as a stray. But a shelter employee noticed the dog's confidence and social skills and alerted Emily Minah, a trainer at Dogs for the Deaf.

Minah, who trained Apple Pie at the organization's headquarters in Central Point, Ore., handed the little helper over after five additional days of training at Springborn's home.

Springborn paid just $1 for the dog.

"A lot of people, when they think ‘assistance dog' they have the picture of the larger dog," Minah said. "Hearing 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. 

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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--Kelly Corrigan, Times Community News

Photo: Judy Springborn works with Apple Pie, a Chihuahua mix, at her Glendale home. Credit: Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press