A skeptical society remains blind to the benefits of guide dogs

The kidnapping of a 200,000 yuan ($28,890) sighting dog has once again sparked an online debate about guide dogs for the blind in a community that remains skeptical of their benefits.

On September 4, a visually impaired shop owner in Anhui province called police to report that his golden retriever guide dog Doussett, which he left unlocked by the door outside his shop, had been kidnapped by a man in his 50s. Surveillance video confirmed that the dog followed the man on his motorbike.

“It used to stay in place when I wasn’t using it,” the man, surnamed Jiang, told the Beijing Youth Daily. “And he never dealt with strangers. I didn’t know why he would follow the man that day.”

After the news made headlines, lawyers said the dog could fetch up to 200,000 yuan, and the thief could face up to 15 years in prison. Two days later, a man took Doucet to the police station, and the dog was returned to Jiang.

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Although the Duosite guide dog has been returned to its owner, its abduction continues to spark controversy online.

However, the happy ending did not quell the heated discussions online. Many netizens were amazed at the cost of guide dogs and wondered if their services were worth such expenses. Some have called it “fraud”.

“News reports said guide dogs are better than walking sticks, but they don’t appear to be very economical or even widely used,” said marine biologist Zhou Chuqing on the social platform Weibo. “The family will need at least one healthy individual to take care of the dog, and the dogs appear to be in service for only six to eight years.”

Another online user with the screen name Yaodaxian went straight to the heart of the discussion.

“What is the point of spending 200,000 yuan to train a guide dog if it can be easily tempted to stay away from its owner?” he wrote.

Wang Jingyu, director of the Chinese Dog Training Center in Dalian, where Doucet was trained, told China News Weekly that 200,000 yuan is the actual cost of several years of training, starting when the dogs are puppies.

According to Wang, last year the center had 105 dogs under training and another 40 completed training. He said the center’s annual expenses amounted to about 6.84 million yuan. The costs cover employee salaries, dog food, training equipment, and medication. Training is an intensive process. Only half of the dogs were selected for graduates of the program; The rest are adopted as pets.

“The cost is really high, but it’s unfair to describe guide dog training as a ‘scam’ because users get the dogs completely free,” Wang told China News Weekly. We don’t sell dogs.

A skeptical society remains blind to the benefits of guide dogs
A trainer with a Labrador “Student” at the Chinese Guide Dog Training Center in Dalian, northeast China’s Liaoning Province.

Three years ago, the Shanghai Daily reported on a new guide dog training center in Shanghai.

Wang Chunson, founder of Erxing Dog Guides Training Ltd in Yangpu District, told the Shanghai Daily this week that dogs can be stolen, despite training to be loyal to their blind owners.

“Only breeds with cute characteristics, such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers, are selected for training guide dogs,” Wang said. “Dogs like this are very human-friendly, so it’s possible to play with or even follow a stranger if you’re not in a work situation.”

For this reason, the public is advised not to interact with guide dogs when encountered. Of course, a single theft is a crime.

A skeptical society remains blind to the benefits of guide dogs
Wang Rongjiang / brilliance
Wang Chunson teaches a guide dog to obey commands.

In fact, there have been cases of missing guide dogs in Shanghai.

Perhaps the most well-known incident was that of a Labrador named Ersipin, whose disappearance in 2012 sparked a lot of public interest.

Ersibin disappeared from his massage shop and was not found for four days. The man who brought Erspin back to the authorities said he found the dog on the side of the road and followed it home. It remains a mystery why Erspin withdrew from service.

What the public may not fully appreciate is how much visually impaired people swear by their dogs.

“When you get used to walking with a guide dog, it is very difficult to go back to using a simple walking stick,” said Melinda Wei, a guide dog user for a year. “My guide dog’s biggest help is helping me avoid obstacles. When I’ve used a cane before, I sometimes bump into things. But with my guide dog, I can enjoy relaxing walks.”

However, general hatred towards dogs is still widespread. This is one of the reasons dogs are still not allowed on buses or in restaurants.

Last year in Shanghai, a visually impaired woman named Liu was assaulted by neighbors because her guide dog was defecating in neighborhood parks.

“They asked me to train my guide dogs to defecate at home, but this is not possible because guide dogs see toilets as obstacles to overcome,” Liu told Shanghai TV.

A skeptical society remains blind to the benefits of guide dogs
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Guide dog poo in community gardens has sparked controversy in a Shanghai neighborhood for two years.

The neighborhood committee intervened in the breach by creating an area designated for a guide dog to defecate, but neighbors still complained about the pollution of the environment.

An intense online discussion ensued until a guide dog training school paid the money to plow two small plots of land in the greenery of the complex where the soil absorbs the excreta. Sanitation workers were dispatched twice a day to keep the designated sites tidy.

Wang Chunson said public misunderstanding is a major reason why guide dogs have not increased in popularity in China since they were first introduced here in 2006.

The country now has more than 17 million visually impaired people, but only about 200 guide dogs are in service. This is a much lower utilization rate than in developed countries.

“There are all kinds of misunderstandings,” Wang explained. “Some people think large dogs are dangerous, but a prerequisite in choosing a puppy for training is their lack of aggressiveness.”

A skeptical society remains blind to the benefits of guide dogs
Allowing guide dogs on public transportation has been a topic of public debate for a long time.

He added, “Some animal activists claim that training guide dogs is a form of animal abuse, which is also not true. The method we use in training is called ‘positive reinforcement’ so dogs remain happy and stress-free.”

However, there are signs that positive changes are afoot.

In the latest regulation on a barrier-free environment issued by the Shanghai government last year, the term “guide dogs” has been replaced by “help dogs”. It stipulated that dogs used to assist people with autism or the physically challenged must be allowed in all public places. Wang said the policy change is a big nod to working dogs.

Meanwhile, an online program called Cloud Adoption Guide Dogs, started by several guide dog training schools across the country, is also gaining popularity.

The program solicits donations from “cloud adopters” to cover costs such as dog food, training equipment, and medication. Adopters can continue training the dogs they support online.

“We hope that the public will be more understanding and tolerant as the interest in dogs increases,” Wang said.

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