Paralympic torchbearer Ping Yali was helped by her guide dog Lucky at the opening ceremony of the Games, but her faithful friend might not be able to give her the help she needs for much longer.
Ping Yali, who was China's first Paralympic gold medallist, carries the flame at the National Stadium during the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games in the Chinese capital on September 6, 2008. [Agencies]
Temporary certificates issued by the authorities allowed guide dogs to be taken to all public places during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the certificates expire tomorrow. Ping is worried her freedom of movement will be curtailed.
"Guide dogs are the eyes of the blind. They help us to get about and integrate with the society," Ping said.
Only six blind people in China have guide dogs, and Ping hopes the numbers will be increased following the Paralympics.
Ping was allowed a dog because of her success at the 1984 New York Paralympics, where she won the long jump competition.
During her first encounter with Lucky, the dog helped her negotiate the stairs leading to her flat - one of the most challenging tasks for a blind person.
"I burst into tears," she said. "Lucky has reduced the risk of injuring myself when I go out."
The golden retriever was trained at China's only guide dog center at Dalian Medical Science University, Liaoning province.
Ping received Lucky last December.
The pair go out in the mornings for walks and shopping.
"I am impressed when people pat Lucky. They truly like him," Ping said.
But Lucky cannot accompany his mistress everywhere. The dog is usually turned away by taxis, buses and the subway.
Lucky stands taller than Beijing's current pet standard of 35 cm. He is 80 cm tall.
An amendment to the Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons in April, granted the blind the right to take guide dogs to public places, provided they obeyed the "relevant regulations".
Just what "relevant regulations" means is unclear to Wang Jingyu, the director of China's Guide Dog Training Center.
"It is too vague. Detailed rules are needed to help its implementation," Wang said.
The government should allow guide dogs in all public places and give more financial support to the training of such dogs, he said.
The China Disabled Persons' Federation estimates there are 12 million people suffering from some form of visual impairment in the country, but there are only 20 guide dogs currently receiving training in Dalian.
"Not every blind person needs a guide dog, but if they need one, they should be given the choice," Wang said.
The cost to train a guide dog is more than 100,000 yuan (US$14,600). Golden retrievers, Labradors and German sherpherds make the best guide dogs.
"They are trained not to be afraid of sounds, fire, or traffic," Wang said. "They are calm and not intrusive." China's Guide Dog Training Center was established in May 2006.
The facility operates on a small government grant along with company and private donations. It employs 17 people, most are young female university graduates. Wang said the future of the center is uncertain.
"The Chinese people now know guide dogs are not pets. They are working animals just like police dogs," Ping said.
"Guide dogs are intelligent and friendly. They do not cause any safety issues."