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A glimpse into guide dogs in Shanxi

( chinadaily.com.cn )

Updated: 2015-05-08

Visually impaired passengers can take their guide dogs onto trains beginning May 1, according to the regulations jointly released by China Railway Corporation and China Disabled Persons' Federation.

"We've been informed that the passengers will be allowed to take guide dogs with prior notice. We will provide assistance in accordance with the regulations," said an officer from Taiyuan Railway Station in Shanxi province.

The station is prepared for the new regulations, but no passengers have travelled with guide dog yet.

There are about 21,000 visually impaired people in Taiyuan currently. The International Guide Dog Federation claimed that the ideal ratio of the visually impaired to guide dogs would be 100 to 1 after evaluation. Thus, Taiyuan should have 210 guide dogs. However, there are currently no guide dogs in the city, and only one registered in the entire province.

A glimpse into guide dogs in Shanxi

A girl takes subway with her guide dog in Shanghai, on April 1, 2014. The guide dogs were allowed in public areas from that day in Shanghai. [Photo/Xinhua]

Yang is a visually impaired sophomore student in Taiyuan's special education school. The 25-year-old young man has never gone out of school on his own before. He stays on campus most of the time, and can only leave with others' assistance.

"I'm a little worried about my life after graduation, I can barely to take a step outdoors alone," Yang said. He talked with his friends about guide dogs. He thought it will be great to have a dog as a guide and a friend.

Lei is a masseur in Taiyuan. His impaired vision restricts him in daily life. "I want to apply for a guide dog," he said, after he was told that guide dogs are free to adopt and allowed on trains now.

However, it's not so easy to get a guide dog currently.

A glimpse into guide dogs in Shanxi

A girl crosses street with her guide dog on May 16, 2014 in Dalian. She has spent two years with the guide dog. [Photo/Xinhua]

There are no guide dogs, and no guide dog training base in Taiyuan.

Guide dog training has a high rejection rate and cost. Since guide dogs are usually given to the visually impaired people for free, so the profit-making training base does not train guide dogs.

"Though a guide dog is very helpful, it's impossible to ask a visually impaired person to pay for it," said a manager at a Taiyuan pet training facility.

At present, China has only four guide dog training bases, located in Dalian in Liaoning province, Shanghai, Zhengzhou in Henan province and Dongying in Shandong province. All but one are non-governmental public welfare organizations.

A glimpse into guide dogs in Shanxi

Fu Mingyan, a trainer in Dalian guide dogs training base "talks" with Juddy, a guide dog in the training base on Feb 19, 2014.[Photo/Xinhua]

The Dalian guide dog training base was the only one approved by China Disabled Persons' Federation. Since its establishment in 2006, only about 80 guide dogs graduated over the next eight years.

A dog must go through meticulous training and exams before it is qualified to be a guide dog. Its training may last three years. The rejection rate in Dalian base is around 70 percent.

Guide dogs must live with puppy walkers for one year to develop an intimate relationship with humans, according to a worker in the training center, as depicted in the Japanese film Quill.

Puppy walkers must be patient, and have enough time to spend with the guide dog. However, the public does not know much about guide dogs, so there are few families willing to volunteer in training.

It costs 120,000 yuan ($19,332) to 150,000 yuan to train a single guide dog, and qualified guide dogs are given to the visually impaired for free. The quantity of guide dogs is restrained by high training cost and small output, so the guide dogs are far too low to meet demand.

Liu Hongquan is the owner of the first guide dog in Shanxi. Though he emphasized that a guide dog will not harm others, his guide dog is sometimes turned away from public facilities, like malls, hotels or restaurants.

Regulations to allow guide dogs onto trains have aroused much interest and attention from the public. Many netizens have posted and forwarded photos and messages about guide dogs.

These new regulations also brought in more applications for guide dogs. Although guide dogs are free, applicants must be able to afford a dog's daily expenses, and take prior training themselves.

"We're doing the best to train more qualified guide dogs, to help more visually impaired people access a bigger world. Also, we hope that guide dogs will be accepted by more people," said a trainer.

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