- Language Tips
DALIAN, Liaoning - Wednesday's International Guide Dog Day, an occasion marked around the world to honor guide dogs' roles in helping blind and visually impaired people, passed largely unnoticed in China.
Guide dog usage is low almost to the point of non-existence here, but various organizations are trying to bring these animals into wider availability.
In May, 2006, the China Disabled Person's Federation authorized Dalian Disabled Person's Federation and Dalian Medical University to build up China's first guide dog training base, in the city of Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning province.
Surveys by the base showed that 16 million Chinese suffer from blindness and visual impairments, so there are many potential users of guide dogs.
But there are few guide dog organizations in the country and only four to five guide dogs can be offered annually. Meanwhile, more than 50,000 people apply for one of the highly trained canines every year.
Since the establishment of the training base in 2006, 28 guide dogs have been trained and made available to people with visual impairments.
The base is now training 68 more dogs, but it's still far from the demand, admits Wang Jingyu, director of the Guide Dog Training Base of China.
Statistics released in 2008 show the United State has 10,000 guide dogs, Britain has 4,000 and Germany 1,100.
New eyes, new lives
Last Friday, four blind people from Liaoning, Shandong and Zhejiang completed co-training lessons at the base and took their dogs home.
Chen Xin, a masseur came from Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong province, became the first man to own a guide dog in his province. Chen and his new partner, golden retriever "Betty," have cooperated well in their one-month training period.
"I'm very excited and feel so lucky that I can have a guide dog. And now, he is my eyes," says Chen.
Betty can not only fulfil commands such as "sit," "stand up," "forward" and other simple movements, but also guide Chen to places he wants to go.
Chen notes, "I always depended on my relatives and friends in the past, and I will be freer in the future whenever I want to go out."
Each qualified dog can remember 40 locations. It will stop or bypass when it encounters objects including steps, crossings, puddles or utility poles. And the dogs are taught several ways to reach their destination in case roads are inaccessible, explains Wang Jingyu.
Chen says the dog only listens to his orders. Even strangers distracting Betty with food can not distract her, he says. DIFFICULTIES IN GUIDE DOG TRAINING
Other provinces and regions have begun to develop guide dog training bases in the past few years, including Shanghai and Fujian. But they all face difficulties.
"The most difficult thing is money," Wang says.
Training a dog to work with a blind or visually impaired person typically takes a year and a half. Around 120,000 yuan ($19,000) is then required every year for training, food and vet care.
As a non-profit organization, the Guide Dog Training Base of China doesn't charge applicants. And most of its funding was provided by the Dalian Municipal Bureau of Finance, the China Disabled Person's Federation and donations from social communities and personal.
But the money is only enough to maintain the status quo, says Wang, adding that the low monthly salary is not attractive to employees while "another difficulty is a lack of skills in the job market."
Chinese universities and colleges have no courses on guide dog training. Although some grads have majored in zoology, they have to learn how to train ordinary dogs into guide dogs by themselves.
"China has complex road conditions and large numbers of people and vehicles, therefore we cannot copy the training experiences of the United States and Japan. We need to explore by ourselves," explains Wang.
More understanding needed
Chen Yan, regarded as China's first female blind piano tuner, was refused by a bus driver on April 1 when she wanted to board with her guide dog.
Pictures of her standing in front of the side door of the bus with "Jenny" staring at the driver helplessly provoked many netizens into online anger.
"Guide dogs are the eyes of people with visual impairments, and they are a part of each blind person's life. As they have received professional training, they are different from others. I support them," Jiang Wenjing wrote on Sina Weibo.
According to the Law of China on the Protection of Disable Persons, a visually impaired person who brings a guide dog into a public place shall abide by the provisions of the state.
However, some people remain afraid of large dogs present in public places.
"I don't know if they're harmful to children. If a dog bites people on the bus suddenly, the whole bus will be in chaos," said Zhao Ning, a resident of Dalian city.
"Many people do not know much about guide dogs and their importance to visually impaired people. I think more efforts should be done to help the public like the animals," Li Mengzhu, an official with the Disabled Person's Federation of Liaoning province, said.