Appeal-Democrat Archive Writing

Dog serves as Y-S woman’s ears

August 27, 2007

When the doorbell rings at Claudia Hollis’ house, be patient. Listen for the paws and the whine coming to the door and then running back. Chip needs to let her know you’re there.

Hollis is hearing-impaired and has been since birth. Sometimes she hears voices in a conversation, but can’t make out the words. High-pitched sounds like a phone ringing or a doorbell are troublesome, especially without her hearing aid. But with her new hearing dog Chip – the first in the Yuba-Sutter area – she’ll know when someone’s at the door.

Chip, a 2-year-old black chow and pug mix, was a week from being euthanized at a Southern California pound when the Sam Simon Foundation found him.

He fit the desired mold of a smaller dog with a good temperament who would be confident with people, said Kim Meinhardt, a hearing-dog instructor with the foundation.

Working well in crowds is critical because, as a service dog, Chip goes almost everywhere Hollis goes.

�He’s got access rights just like any other service dog,� Meinhardt said.

The foundation is funded entirely by Sam Simon, whose credits include co-creator of �The Simpsons� animated television show.

Hearing dogs are available for no fee, but it could take from six months to a year to actually place the dog. The number of trainers limits how many dogs are available, so the foundation thoroughly checks to see if the owners can care for the dog and if the dog responds well to its new environment.

When Chip first came into Hollis’ home, the biggest worry came from the cat that Claudia and husband John adopted in December. They weren’t sure how the feisty Rummy would react to another pet. Since Chip moved in Aug. 17, the two have gotten along, aside from the occasional stolen sunny spot on the living room floor, Hollis said.

Meinhardt eased Chip into the home before he was finally dropped off to stay, but the hearing dog’s training isn’t over. Hollis has to work with him every day to keep his training sharp and send reports every few weeks to keep the foundation up to date about how Chip is doing.

If he does his job, Chip is rewarded with a treat.

In an ideal situation, Chip will hear a phone, doorbell or even someone calling �Claudia� and run back to touch Hollis to let her know what’s going on before he takes her to the source of the noise. When the fire alarm goes off, he’s trained to jump on her chest to wake her up.

�It gives me a much more secure feeling knowing that somebody is alerting me with these things,� Hollis said. �He’s still getting used to the house and the way everything sounds.�

Not only is it a whole new sound environment for Chip, he’s also part pug – a notoriously stubborn breed. The actual training is kept to 45 minutes until he decides his work is done. There are even times he slips with his training and has to refocus.

�Sometimes you have to start from the basics of coming to you when he hears a sound,� Hollis said.

Even with Chip’s occasional lapses and occasional stubborn streak, Hollis, who is the branch manager of FREED Center for Independent Living in Marysville, is excited to have someone other than her husband help her be aware of life around the house.

�I’m just so happy to have him,� she said. �He’s going to become the other guy in my life.�

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