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Can Stray Dogs be Guide Dogs?

Recently a blind woman in the US was saved from being hit by a speeding school bus by her guide dog. Some years ago I remember reading about how a guide dog had knocked his master down to protect him from a swinging crane. I was wondering if the woman would have been safe if she was just moving with her white cane. Certainly, a guide dog is not only a mobility support to the blind person but also an efficient companion who could be a dynamic assistant in times of need.

During my travels to countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US, I have seen a number of blind persons moving about accompanied by guide dogs doing their daily chores whether it be going shopping, commuting to work or just going for a walk. These dogs who are usually German Shepherds or Labradors are professional dogs as different from our pets. They are trained to service the blind people. There are agencies who specially train the dogs for months to become efficient professionals. I was also told that before a guide dog is assigned to a blind individual there is a period of familiarisation and orientation when the professional dog and the blind owner gets to know each other and learn to function together. These dogs live and work with their blind masters for a number of years. When the dog grows old they are retired and sent to a retirement facility and the blind person is given a fresh professional canine.

People have often asked me why guide dogs are not seen in India. In fact I know of people who have tried to introduce the guide dog concept in metros like Mumbai and Delhi. Given the huge crowds, wild chaotic traffic, large number of strays and the high level of noise in our big cities,it would seem extremely difficult for the guide dogs to operate and survive. On the other hand these guide dogs are likely to go crazy instead of being a help.

Recently, I was on a holiday in Munnarin Kerala. God's own country people say. . Beautiful mountains, well manicured tea gardens and wonderful weather. Great place to go for long walks. Not too much traffic and plenty of fresh air. It just occured to me that a guide dog in this situation could have given me the opportunity of traversing the hilly tracks and exploring the country side on my own. In fact a guide dog could be an ideal support for a blind person living in places like Munnar. There are several towns across India where guide dogs could be a practical option.

Over the past few years we have been reading about the increasing stray dog menace in college campuses across India, be it TISS- Mumbai, JNU or St Stephen's College in Delhi. A number of blind students have been attacked and bitten by dogs. I was just wondering if it could be a win-win situation if it was possible to catch these stray dogs and train them to become professional guide dogs. This could usher in a new era of confidence and independent living for blind students studying in our universities. These guide dogs could be part of the professional support services that academic institutions provide blind and visually impaired students on campus .

So, will the animal lovers and the public authorities like to explore this possibility?

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