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Train China's Own Seeing-eye Dogs
2006-05-23 09:45:07
Many Chinese people first heard about seeing-eye dogs after reading the heart-warming tale "Quill". Now there is a bit of good news for the seeing impaired in China: they may get their own seeing-eye dogs in the near future with the establishment of China's first seeing-eye dog training center in the coastal city of Dalian.
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"Shitou" was just a cute, ordinary Labrador dog only six months ago. But after being trained at the Dalian Medical University for over half a year, Shitou, which means stone, is almost ready to embark on a career as a seeing-eye dog, also known as the eyes for the blind.
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"Shitou can already help his owner walk up and down the stairs and guide her to walk around. And we are now training the dog to read the traffic lights. It's very close to becoming a fully competent seeing-eye dog."

Professor Wang Jingyu, who had been studying and conducting research on animal behavior in Japan for 9 years, is Shitou's trainer. An animal expert, Wang Jingyu has long had it in his mind to train seeing-eye dogs in China.

"Seeing-eye dogs are common in many foreign countries. I had been thinking we should also train seeing-eye dogs to help blind people in our country. And that thought turned into determination after I saw foreign athletes led by seeing-eye dogs at the 2004 Paralympic Games. I think our blind athletes will also need seeing-eye dogs in 2008 when the Paralympics comes to China."

In October 2004, Wang Jingyu selected Shitou and five other puppies from a pet market. And half a year ago, when the puppies were strong enough, the difficult training began.

"We usually choose Labradors and golden retrievers as these dogs are clever, calm and their size suits the job. But even though they are clever, training is still very difficult. As we have no experience in training seeing-eye dogs, we are also learning while we train them. And about half of the dogs will be weeded out during the training."

Now among the first batch of six dogs, 4 have completed trials, found their blind adopters and will soon start working.
With this successful experience, Wang Jingyu has established China's first seeing-eye dog training center at his university, which is strongly supported by the China Disabled Persons' Association. People with impaired vision can apply to the China Disabled Persons' Federation to get their own seeing-eye dog after approval. The only requirement is that candidates are truly in need of a seeing-eye-dog and can afford to raise their new pet, which can cost around 300 yuan per month.

Professor Wang says, short on professional staff and with limited funds, the center is currently able to train only 10 dogs per year. But for the nearly 9 million seeing impaired people in China, at least there is now hope. As training programs for seeing-eye dogs mature and become more popular in China, more blind people can be guided and protected by their own "Quills".

China Drive is one of CRI's radio programs aired from Monday to Friday. Chinastic picks the most interesting life reports from China Drive. Stay tuned.
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