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The National Mutual Insurance Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives (Zenkyoren) will provide assistance for training dogs to help people with disabilities, federation officials said Tuesday.

The move is the first large project to support the training of service dogs in Japan. Unlike guide dogs for the blind, there are only 37 certified helper dogs in the country, even though legislation promoting their training took effect last October.

There are about 15,000 disabled people in Japan in need of helper dogs, many of them wheelchair-bound due to spinal cord injuries suffered in traffic accidents.

Zenkyoren, which overseas the insurance business of the country’s farm co-ops, will start out with financial contributions of 130 million yen for the current fiscal year running through next March, the officials said.

The group plans to continue allocating similar amounts for the purpose next fiscal year and thereafter, with a view to eventually becoming involved in the actual training, they said.

Zenkyoren, which also operates a mutual-aid program for automobile liability, determined that it would be fitting for it to support helper-dog training because one of its activities is helping rehabilitate traffic accident victims, the officials said.

The group intends to provide 100 million yen to a social welfare corporation for training service canines that is expected to be established in Tokyo possibly within this fiscal year, the officials said.

The group will also contribute 20 million yen for research aid to the Japanese Service Dog Resource Academy, located in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, which offers information about helper dogs, and another 10 million yen to other groups.

As a future project, it will consider running training programs at affiliated rehabilitation centers in the town of Nakaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, according to the officials.

Helper dogs provide support for the disabled in their daily lives, such as by helping them walk and stand up, opening and closing doors, operating elevators and fetching things like telephones and goods from the refrigerator.

In the United States, where such dogs have been helping the disabled for over two decades, more than 1,000 of them are reportedly in service.

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