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Nagoya guide dog gets crash course in English

Chunichi Shimbun

Canadian Lorelei Harada, a long-term resident of Japan with a progressive eye disease, will receive a guide dog from the Chubu Guide Dogs Association of Japan that has been trained to understand English.

Harada, 37, came to stay at the association’s training center in Nagoya to undergo joint training with the dog, which had to be quickly trained to respond to her native language instead of Japanese. Preparations are under way for the dog and the English teacher to live together as the dog adapts to receiving instructions in English.

Last month, Harada took the dog on a walk through Nagoya’s Donko shopping district.

“Stop,” she said when it got distracted by other dogs and the aroma of food from nearby restaurants.

“Walk closer to the wall,” advised trainer Ryota Takeshige, who was following a few steps behind.

Harada came to Japan 16 years ago and is living with her husband, Hidenori, 37, and their two sons. She suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition characterized by progressive vision loss that can lead to complete blindness.

Harada, who has weak night vision and trouble seeing her own feet even in daylight, decided to get a guide dog before the symptoms worsen. She began training with the dog last month.

It was decided the dog would be taught to follow basic commands in English, such as “heel,” “sit,” “down,” “wait,” and “come.”

According to the trainers, it is better to train the dog to respond to English commands because it’s her native language and the one she will naturally use first if something happens to her.

There are certain requirements that must be met to qualify for receiving a guide dog. First, the applicant must have a Physical Disability Certificate, level 1 or 2.

Application forms then must be submitted to the Guide Dogs Association of Japan or the training center. This is followed by an interview, after which the staff will choose a suitable dog based on the applicant’s build, walking speed and disability. The selection process can take months or even years.

Once a dog is selected, applicants must stay at the center to train with it for two to four weeks. The last stage of training must be held at the applicant’s home before the guide dog can be released to its new owner.

The guide dog chosen for Harada was a 2-year-old male Labrador retriever. The dog had received about a year of training at the center but had to relearn all the commands in English to help Harada.

Harada spent every hour of her day with the dog during retraining and also learned how to brush and feed him.

“He is very adorable, but I have to keep in mind firmly that he is not a pet,” Harada said. Nevertheless, she confided that she is happy because the dog has finally begun to wag its tail in greeting.

The pair moved on to the final stage of training at Harada’s home at the end of Golden Week on Monday.

“I must confess that I am worried, but I would like to remain positive and get the whole family to work together,” her husband said.

While Harada can’t walk alone at night right now, come summer she hopes to enjoy the Bon festival with the help of her guide dog.

“I’m looking forward to wearing a ‘yukata’ (summer kimono) and enjoying the night with the dog,” she said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on May 2.