Guide dog trainers offer glimmer of hope for visually impaired people
"There were around 50,000 applicants when our guide dog training center was first established in 2006. We got endless phone calls every day," Wang Jingyu, founder of a guide dog training center recalled. "However, we only managed to train two that year."
Wang became director of the Laboratory Animal Center at Dalian Medical University in northeast China's Liaoning Province in 2001, after completing his PhD in animal behavior at a Japanese university.
"I saw many athletes with guide dogs during the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games on TV. My great-grandmother also suffered from vision problems. Therefore, I've paid close attention to the group for a long time and came up with the idea of training guide dogs myself," Wang said.
Starting from scratch, Wang had to conduct research and consult experts at the beginning as there was extremely limited infrastructure in China. His training center became one of the first professional guide dog training centers in China, providing guide dog breeding, training and guidance.
After 14 years' development, Wang's center made some progress. Last year, his center successfully trained over 30 dogs, and the success rate of training has increased from 20 percent at the beginning to 50 percent.
More than 200 certified dogs from the center have been delivered to applicants for free over the past 14 years, according to Wang.
However, Wang also revealed some difficulties in this field.
"Very few trainers can stick with it due to the overwhelming workload and low payment. Each trainer has to train at least six dogs every day and do the cleaning and feeding in addition," said Wang Lin, a trainer at the center.
The cost of training a single guide dog ranges from 150,000 yuan (US$21,000) to 200,000 yuan, which includes the payment for trainers, dog food and vaccines, while the trainers' salaries account for about 70 percent of the total cost. However, the non-profit center had inadequate income, according to the founder.
Although the situation improved as the municipal government started to offer a 60,000-yuan subsidy for each qualified guide dog from the center since 2010, Wang Jingyu had to sell his apartment to maintain the operation of the center in hard times.
"Some people suggested I should sell paid guide dogs, but I refused. It should be a thing to offer a glimmer of hope to visually impaired people, since most families have already borne great economic burdens," Wang said.
Liaoning Province now has about 30,000 visually impaired people. Given this considerable number, Wang appealed to the local government and society to devise more supportive policies and raise more funds for the development of the guide dog cause.
"Blind people deserve wonderful lives. With the help of guide dogs, they can create more social value. Our guide dog trainers share a common faith to bring them another pair of eyes, and I believe China's guide dog cause has a better future," Wang said.