April 29 marks the International Guide Dog Day, which honors the importance of guide dogs in the lives of visually impaired people as it helps them navigate the world safely and independently.
China's first guide dog training base was established in Dalian City, northeast China's Liaoning Province in 2006. The training base is a public welfare institution, and all the guide dogs trained here will be given to visually impaired people for free.
According to Liang Jia, a trainer from the base, China has less than 200 guide dogs. However, the number of visually impaired people in the country is around 17 million. Every year, tens of thousands of people apply for a guide dog and have to wait for a very long time to get one.
Guide dogs are trained strictly to help visually impaired people find locations, avoid obstacles, and use public transport.
During the training process, around 60 to 70 percent of the dogs can't pass the tests, according to data released by the training base in Dalian. It costs an average of 150,000 yuan (21,194 U.S. dollars) to successfully train a guide dog, and each can work for eight-10 years.
The strict training process and tests ensure that each dog is qualified to be a reliable companion for visually impaired people.
For those who are lucky enough to have a guide dog, life is not as convenient as they expect. Due to the public's lack of knowledge and misconceptions about guide dogs, many people face a lot of difficulties when they try to access public services with guide dogs.
On April 27, a video of a traffic police officer pretending to be blind being denied permission to get on a bus with a guide dog went viral on Chinese social media and once again raised awareness to the difficulties faced by visually impaired people.
The related hashtag has gained 720 million views and nearly 250,000 posts on China's Twitter-like Weibo. Many netizens have called for more support and care for visually impaired people in terms of access to public services.
Some even shared posts with the hashtag "I accept guide dogs" to show support and express their willingness to share a ride with the dog and its owner.
According to China's laws, registered guide dogs are allowed in public areas since the country amended the Law on the Protection of the Disabled Persons in 2008.
Many cities across the country also allow guide dogs to take public transport. For example, Beijing allowed registered guide dogs in public transportation with visually impaired people as of May 1, 2015.
Nevertheless, some people still have worries and misconceptions about guide dogs as many think that the dogs may attack them. However, there have been no cases of guide dogs attacking humans in China, according to Liang.
According to Chinese regulations, passengers are banned from carrying animals on trains. However, the China Railway Corporation and the China Disabled Persons' Federation formulated a regulation in 2015 allowing visually impaired people to take guide dogs on trains.
During the Spring Festival rush, a visually impaired couple shared their experience of travelling with guide dogs in such a busy period.