More Awareness For Guide Dogs in China, But Still a Long Way To Go

Chinese media and social media users are creating more awareness on guide dogs and service dog etiquette in China. But with very few available assistance dogs and many misconceptions about them, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before guide dogs can become more common in the PRC.

“Do not disturb guide dogs,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV posted on Sina Weibo on October 15. Raising awareness of service dog etiquette, the news outlet shared several infographics and warned people not to feed guide dogs or deny them entrance.

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“Do not call out to guide dogs,” CCTV writes: “They are at work. Do not touch or feed service dogs or guide dogs for the blind. They are not pets. They’re working dogs who have gone through strict training. Please don’t distract them.”

People’s Daily also paid attention to service dogs in a post on October 15 in celebration of World Sight Day, honoring the tough job guide dogs do.

Getting a guide dog is simply unattainable for many people in China.

As of May 2015, service dogs are accepted in Beijing’s public transport. But since the phenomenon of guide dogs (导盲犬) is relatively new to China, general knowledge on service dog etiquette is often lacking.

The world’s first guide dog training center started in 1817 in Vienna. Guide dogs became internationally recognized after the First World War, when dogs assisted veterans who had lost their vision during the war.

But China severely lags behind when it comes to service dogs for the (visually) handicapped. Not only are there very few guide dogs, the lack of general understanding of their role has also hampered their public acceptance.

In 2014, Netease published an article about China’s lack of guide dogs. While mainland China has around 17 million people with a visual handicap, there are only 67 official guide dogs. In the capital of Beijing, there are currently 10 registered guide dogs. The southern province of Yunnan, that has a population of nearly 46 million people, recently welcomed its very first guide dog.

Mainland China has only one national training center for service dogs. China’s Guide Dog Training Center (中国导盲犬大连培训基地), located in Dalian, was established in 2004 and was officially approved by the China Disabled Persons Federation (中国残疾人联合会) in 2006.

The center has 12 dog trainers, and currently holds a total of 54 service dogs in training according to the official website. About 40% of these dog do not pass the strict tests to qualify as a guide dog. The center provides its guide dogs to (visually) handicapped people free of charge.

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The training of guide dogs, that requires about 6 to 8 months of intensive and consistent exercise, is a costly affair: ±120,000-150,000 RMB (±18,000-22,000 US$) per year of training. The government has no official policy on guide dogs for the blind, and there is limited funding available.

If handicapped people apply for a guide dog, they personally need to come to Dalian to train with the dog for a period of time. With many people living far from Dalian and not having the financial means to make the journey, getting a guide dog is simply unattainable for many handicapped people in China.

“No matter how many times we explained that Jenny is a guide dog, he was determined not to let us stay.”

One person who has done much for increasing awareness on guide dogs in China is Chen Yan (陈燕). Chen is a successful blind female entrepreneur who has become a public figure together with her guide dog Jenny.

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She is an active social media user, sharing many stories about the everyday life and struggles of her and her guide dog on her Weibo account. She frequently posts about public places denying her entrance because of her service dog.

Chen received much support when she shared how a Beijing subway employee would not allow her entrance to the public transport system for having her dog with her. It was the 12th time she was refused entrance to the subway before the new May 2015 law on guide dogs in public transport was implemented.

Chen is denied access to a public park in Nanjing for having her service dog with her.

Chen is denied access to a public park in Nanjing for having her service dog with her.

She recently also shared how guards of a public park in Nanjing denied her access to the premises, and how a restaurant manager would not allow her and Jenny to have dinner at his establishment. She wrote: “No matter how many times we explained to him that Jenny is a guide dog, he said his customers would complain and he was determined not to let us stay.”

Chen is refused entrance at a local restaurant because of her guide dog Jenny.

Chen is refused entrance at a local restaurant because of her guide dog Jenny.

On Weibo, many netizens express their appreciation of guide dogs. “I wished nobody would refuse guide dogs,” one netizen writes: “They are the eyes for blind people, and should be welcomed by everyone.”

“Guide dogs sacrifice so much to be able to do the work they do.”

It is clear that there has been increased (social) media attention for guide dogs in China over the past year. The story of a blind man from Beijing whose guide dog was stolen made headlines in February of 2016.

It especially became a big topic when the dog was again safely returned with a sorry note shortly after its abduction.

Weibo’s love for guide dogs also shows by the many accounts dedicated to them. One guide dog named Candie even has her own account on Weibo.

According to her bio, Candie is the first internationally qualified guide dog of China. With over 384,000 followers, Candie informs people of the kind of work service dogs do.

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“Guide dogs sacrifice so much to be able to do the work they do,” one netizen says: “Why on earth would someone refuse them?”

Other Weibo users agree: “They are little heroes. We should acknowledge their importance and treat them well.”

– By Manya Koetse
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Note: Want to contribute to the China Guide Dog Training Center? Their official website has an online charity shop and also a donation page (bank account number on bottom of page). [What’s on Weibo is not affiliated with the China Guide Dog Training Center in any way.]

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