‘Graduation day’ for guide dogs highlights their rarity in China

For Faith, FayFay and Iris, the end of the National Day holiday week marks a new start in their careers as guide dogs.

The three Labrador retrievers were recent graduates of the Guangzhou Guide Dog School, which trains dogs to help the visually impaired. On Friday, the charity even held a “graduation ceremony” for the dogs at a luxury hotel to raise awareness of the bond between people with disabilities and their furry companions.

“With the help of guide dogs, visually impaired people deserve a life with more confidence, independence and dignity,” Li Yuanzhen, director of the training school, told Sixth Tone.

Faith, alongside the new owner, during the graduation ceremony in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on October 7, 2022. Chen Jimin/CNS/VCG

Faith, alongside the new owner, during the graduation ceremony in Guangzhou, Guangdong province on October 7, 2022. Chen Jimin/CNS/VCG

Facilities such as the Guangzhou Guide Dog School have become more common since the first training center opened in the northeastern city of Dalian in 2006. However, the number of guide dogs- guide dogs in the country is grossly insufficient – a 2019 report by the China Association of the Blind said there were fewer than 200 guide dogs for a country with around 17 million visually impaired people.

Li, citing the international standard, said that ideally 1% of the country’s visually impaired population should be equipped with a guide dog.

Dog trainers told Sixth Tone that strict dog breeding criteria and high training costs have proven to be a major roadblock in the industry. A guide dog must be bite-free for the past three generations and have good vision as well as the ability to travel long distances.

The Guangzhou Guide Dog School has trained 11 guide dogs since 2015 and now works in the southern cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Foshan, Li said. Before graduating, Faith, FayFay and Iris went through a rigorous six-month training program, followed by a month-long session with their future owners.

Wang Jingyu, director of the China Guide Dog Training Center, told China Newsweek that 50 percent of canine applicants are screened out in the selection process, while the average expenditure for each dog’s training program exceeds 200,000 yuan ($28,100). dollars). These expenses are usually borne by training agencies, which adds a heavy financial burden, while owners only pay for the dog’s living expenses while they are with them.

Guide dogs also face other problems, including being barred from entering public spaces despite policies introduced in 2012 to provide a barrier-free environment for dogs assisting the visually impaired. Those working in the dog training industry said the lack of penalties for violations of these policies and insufficient knowledge of the blind community have fueled traditional biases.

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Li Yuanzhen, Principal of Guangzhou Guide Dog School, with FayFay at the graduation ceremony in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, October 7, 2022. Courtesy of Guangzhou Guide Dog School)