THIS week is national Guide Dog week in France (Semaine des Chiens Guides d’Aveugle), an event held to raise awareness about the lifeline that the dogs can provide for visually impaired people.
Demonstrations, information stands and exhibitions are being held across France for the fourth year of the event.
The Connexion looks at one way readers could help - by becoming a host family for a guide dog puppy.
Jean-Luc Girre of the Fédération Francaise des Associations de Chiens guides d’Aveugle (F.F.A.C) said: ’The purpose of the week is to make our cause better known to the general public and encourage them to become a host family for a guide dog puppy.’’
The idea of the host family is to temporarily adopt a puppy and allow it to blossom in a peaceful environment. This initial period is very important in preparing the dog for its future duties.
When the puppies arrive, aged between two and three months old, they are very easily influenced, and it is the family’s duty to introduce them the world and teach them basic behaviour and commands. Although commands should be given in French, a lot of the meaning is expressed the intonation and tone of voice.
The puppy’s food and veterinary bills are paid for by the school where the dog comes from.
There are two main criteria for being a host family. Mr Girre said: ‘’You must have enough time to look after the animal, as you should never leave the dog alone for more than three hours in the day.’’
The school covers all food and veterinary bills and you are allowed to have another dog in the house.
You must also live relatively close to a guide dog school, as the puppy will be monitored by a professional. A map with the complete list of educational centres is available on the event website.
After the dog reaches one year old, they are transferred to the school and begin to learn specialist skills, including obedience, use of pavements and pedestrian walkways, and using public transport.
The F.F.A.C, founded in 1972, unites 14 guide dog schools and 13 other associations across the country, and provides more than 200 visually impaired people per year with free guide dogs.
Nearly two million people suffer from a visual impairment in France, and 61 000 are completely blind. A specially trained canine companion can bring comfort and peace of mind to their lives, as well as the confidence to do new activities.
Currently in France, guide dogs only benefit 1% of visually impaired people.
Mr Girre said: ‘’This low figure is due to a lack of information for the visually impaired. People are often unaware that although the cost of education is expensive, the guide dog is given freely. Also, it is not widely known that you don’t necessarily have to be blind, as two out of three dogs are given to partially-sighted people.’’
Mr Girre added ‘’The primary advantage of having a guide dog is to give visually impaired people their autonomy and go about their day-to-day life. The animal also provides a social link with able-sighted people.’’
In the future, the federation hopes develop its services, aiming to provide 50% more guide dogs within the next five years. They also aim to regulate the waiting time nationwide.
For more information on the Semaine des Chiens Guides d’Aveugle events, visit semaine-chiensguides.fr and for details on the federation visit www.chiensguides.fr to apply to become a host family contact your nearest school.
Photo: Phillipe Rocher FFAC