Dogs on active service
Last year marked the end of the Asia-Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons. During that year, a new law came into effect in Japan to promote the acceptance into society of service dogs. This law recognizes the position of dogs in helping with the daily lives of disabled people, whether they are guide dogs, support dogs, or hearing dogs. Service dogs are already recognized in European and American society, and are active in helping the disabled and the elderly. With the new law, Japan is also aiming to increase the role of these dogs.
Most of the staff at the P & P Welfare Studio in Kyoto City are people with disabilities. Chika Yoshihara (21) lost the use of her arms and legs through cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair. However, Yoshihara is different from the other staff in one important respect she has a partner to help her in her everyday life.
When Chika returns home after work, she always calls out "Im home!" to announce her presence. And without fail, Kevin, a male Labrador, comes bounding from inside the house to greet her. Kevin is a support dog and has lived with Chika since she was in the second year at junior high school. "Since I started work, we spend less time together," says Chika. "But we do go shopping together locally, and we go for walks when I come home from work, or when Im on holiday." As she speaks, Chika strokes Kevin, who is sitting alongside her motorized wheelchair. "Chika changed since Kevin came," says her mother. "She has started to go out more often."
Chika and Kevin leave the house together to go shopping at the local convenience store. Kevin always walks on Chikas left. A carelessly-parked bicycle on the footpath leaves space only for the wheelchair, so Chika gives an instruction, "Follow!" Kevin drops back, and walks behind the wheelchair.
While Chika is shopping, Kevin lies down at the entrance to the store and keeps an eye on her. Coming out of the store, she accidentally drops the receipt. She gives the order "Take!" and Kevin picks up the receipt in his mouth and offers it to Chikas hand. "He always holds soft things gently, and grips tighter on hard or heavy things," comments Chika. Kevin takes his own lead in his mouth and holds it out towards her.
Kevin was trained at the Japan Guide Dogs for Disabled Association. President Hiromi Iida explains, "Each support dog is specially trained to match the particular owner. The animal is trained depending on the users physical needs and living conditions a dog would be trained to pick up the telephone receiver when it rings, or to help the user change clothes by pulling off socks, for example. In Kevins case, his job is to pick up things which Chika cannot reach."
The New Law
On October 1, 2002 a new law came into force to protect the rights of people who use service dogs. It covers not only support dogs like Kevin, but also guide dogs and hearing dogs. We asked Yoshihiro Muramatsu of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare why the Ministry had felt the law was necessary, and what changes the law is expected to bring.
"People were used to seeing guide dogs accompanying visually-impaired persons, but even so guide dogs were not allowed to accompany their owners into some facilities in this country," he explained. "The law was passed to ensure that dogs which have received the appropriate training are allowed into public facilities. The purpose of the regulation is to promote the independence and participation in society of people with disabilities."
Under the new law, the administrators of public facilities such as railways, schools, sports facilities and museums are obliged to approve the entry of trained service dogs. The law also mandates that efforts are made to allow service dogs to accompany their owners to places of work, or to live together with their owners in either public or private housing. From this October, private facilities such as department stores and restaurants will be obliged by the law to admit service dogs.
In short, the law obliges society to accept service dogs working with disabled people, and recognizes the right of disabled persons to take their service dogs with them to the places they use.
Different types of service
At present, there are some 900 guide dogs working for visually impaired persons in Japan. It takes about ten months to train a guide dog, and nine groups nationwide train between 100 and 130 dogs each year.
Toru Nakamura of the Japan Guide Dog Associations Kanagawa Training Center explains the work of a guide dog: "When guiding a visually impaired person, a guide dog has to look for a route that both the person and the dog can take without obstruction. The dogs main job is to stop when there is some danger, or when there is a step or a change of direction such as a crossroads. The person gives the orders, which the dog must understand and obey. The dog is a form of life support that increases the mobility of people with visual disabilities."
Guide dogs for visually impaired people are well established in society, but support dogs and hearing dogs are new to Japan. Currently, there are only 40 of these animals, and unlike guide dogs, their jobs are not well known. This is particularly true of hearing dogs.
Moto Arima is president of Japan Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, an NPO. She explains, "The hearing dogs function is to help the owner with the sounds that are needed in life. The dog is also expected to protect the owners safety. A person with hearing disabilities has a higher possibility of being left behind in an emergency like a fire there have actually been cases where a person with hearing disabilities has not known that the house next door is on fire, because they have not been able to hear alarms or sirens. The person only knows there is an emergency when the fire fighters enter and tap them on the shoulder. Hearing dogs can alert their owners to such emergencies, and can also attract the attention of other family members if there are any problems."
A New Relationship?
Service dogs are trained by private organizations. Much of the work is carried out by volunteers, such as the basic training for puppies, which is done to let the puppies learn to trust humans and to socialize them prior to the start of the training courses. There is also a need to provide homes for dogs who do not go on to be working dogs after the training, and for dogs who have retired from their working lives. It appears that the number of people involved with service dogs is gradually increasing.
The new law includes an authorization system, under which the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare appoints bodies to give official recognition to trained service dogs. This system came into effect in April, so there will soon be certified service dogs working in this country.
In Japan, it has been usual to think of dogs only as pets. The activities
of service dogs are helping to shape a new image of the potential role for dogs in
society. Where such dogs help persons with disabilities they are being seen as part of
those persons rights. Beyond this, though, these dogs are helping to build a new
relationship between people and dogs in society.
|NEWS | POLITICS | DEFENCE | FEATURES | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|