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Guide dog users in Japan are voicing their confusion about a new lifestyle prompted by the coronavirus crisis as they find it difficult to seek help from others while maintaining social distance.

Related groups are releasing information about how to help guide dog users in the coronavirus era, calling on people to continue supporting them by taking measures to prevent infection.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the Japan Guide Dog Association and other groups have been informed of concerns from guide dog users. One said, “I’m receiving less help from others,” while another said, “It’s difficult to stand in line at stores because I can’t see social distancing signs placed on the floor.”

In one case, a guide dog had to wait outside a shop that previously allowed such dogs to enter, even though restaurants, hotels and other facilities cannot reject the animals in principle.

An official at a guide dog support center said that people may be holding back from offering help so as not to bother guide dog users by touching or talking to them because such actions may increase infection risks.

In November, the center started to send out information via social media about how to support guide dog users, such as helpers walking a little ahead of them instead of allowing the support recipients to use their arms. Illustrations are used for better understanding.

Also in November, the Japan Guide Dog Association launched an online program to teach how to better communicate with visually impaired people at stores, such as verbal guidance to help them identify locations where hand sanitizers are available.

The association also said that there is no need for the sanitizing of guide dogs as no cases of coronavirus transmission from dogs to people have been reported.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, an increasing number of stores are using trays to give customers change instead of handing it over. In an online lecture, Mayu Oshino, a 34-year-old guide dog user and staff member of the association, said that visually impaired people would be happy if shop clerks tilted such trays so that small change can be received easily.

Another challenge in the coronavirus crisis is securing puppies to become guide dogs.

The association, while taking thorough infection prevention measures, now holds small classes for volunteers who raise such puppies for some 10 months before they start training as guide dogs and uses videos for instructions.

As these changes have increased the burdens on its workers, the association temporarily reduced the frequency of puppy breeding for potential guide dogs to once a month from several times.

According to an umbrella body for facilities and organizations offering services for visually impaired people, 909 guide dogs are currently working in Japan, but the number of such dogs has been declining over the past 10 years.

An official from the Japan Guide Dog Association, which produces around 35 guide dogs a year, said that the group is making efforts to keep the number of guide dogs it raises at the normal level.

“We want to help guide dog users go out as usual even during the coronavirus crisis, without being isolated,” the official said.

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