How many guide dogs do you think there are in Beijing, a city of around 21 million?
Perhaps it would help to know how many blind people there are in the Chinese capital and what percentage of visually impaired people use guide dogs internationally.
The respective answers are 67,000 and around 2%, which might suggest Beijing ought to have around 1,340 guide dogs. But that would be a vast overestimate: only 12 people are aided by trained guide dogs. There are only about 100 such dogs in China as a whole, a country where 16 million citizens are without sight.
Now if those figures are surprising enough, try this. Last week one of these precious dogs was almost sold for meat.
That’s right, an animal that was painstakingly trained for two years (Chinese media says the training costs more than $25,000) was stolen by thieves in a Beijing suburb. The dog snatchers had a view to selling her for around Rmb16 ($2.4) a kilo.
To be fair to the thieves, they did not know Qiaoqiao was a guide dog when they took her because she was on an off-duty walk with an employee of her owner.
The abduction resulted in a social media furore. Even the state broadcaster CCTV stepped in, publishing information about the theft and asking for the public’s help via its weibo account.
The post was shared more than 10,000 times although for 37 hours Qiaoqiao’s fate hung in the balance: would she end up like the thousands of other dogs stolen for meat every year or would the thieves respond to the massive publicity campaign and return the seven year-old Labrador?
It turns out the abductors did have a heart. On Wednesday Qiaoqiao was found wandering the area where she was taken with a note attached to her neck: “We were wrong. We are sorry, please forgive us.”
Her 47 year-old owner was overjoyed and vowed to take special care of Qiaoqiao in the future.
But the tale did not end there.
It sparked heated debates online and in the media about the difficulties disabled people and dog lovers face in the country.“I had never heard of guide dogs till I read about Qiaoqiao. There should be more education on this subject,” wrote one netizen on weibo. “Dogs like Qiaoqiao will only be safe when the vile trade in dog meat ends,” wrote another.
China got its first guide dog in 2004 as part of the country’s effort to prepare for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
That said, many municipal authorities still see dog ownership as bit of a menace. Until last year guide dogs were banned from the Beijing metro and even from hospitals.
Nevertheless dog ownership is booming with pet stores and doggy preening salons common in major cities. And now dog lovers are calling for new laws to protect their pets against those who would kidnap them and sell them for meat (for more China’s dogmeat festival see WiC243).
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