At a Guide Dog School, the Best Students Have Blind Ambitions"The puppies here are amazing, the way they can guide the blind. I would also like to help the physically handicapped when I grow up." When Lee Hae-suk, the mother of 9-year-old Hwang Young-ju, read that passage from her son's homework assignment, enormous pride overwhelmed her.
Hwang and his friends took a trip last week to the Samsung Guide Dog School for the Blind (www.mydog.samsung.com) located near Samsung Everland in Yong-in City.
The Guide Dog School for the Blind was established in 1993, the first of its kind in Korea, and it quickly became a favorite field trip spot for students. The center also operates a Search and Rescue Dog Center, in which the dogs assist in national emergencies such as building collapses, avalanches and airplane accidents.
The school currently has 60 guide dogs in training to become the eyes of the blind. A 2-year-old Labrador retriever named Ocean is in the last stage of his six-month formal training, and the dog is learning how to safely cross overpasses, analyze traffic stops and avoid obstacles.
An 8-year-old German shepherd named Zeus is now the leader of the search and rescue dogs, and he skillfully handles simulated rescue situations. Zeus made headlines in 1997 when he rescued a man in his 20s who had been lost for two days in the mountains after a devastating car accident. Zeus found the man only 20 minutes after arriving at the search site, a remarkable feat that left police and investigators astonished.
Groups of 10 or more who visit the school can attend a routine training session and experience being blind. School officials aim to illustrate to visitors the hardships faced by the visually impaired. Instructors cover a visitor's eyes with patches and take them down specially-designed training roads with a guide dog. Visitors can tour to the dogs' living and play areas and may also listen to the trainers speak about life at the school.
Anyone who wishes to experience the special companionship of dogs can take part in a kind of foster care known as the puppy-walking program. This is an opportunity to take home puppies for their first three months to a year and help train and socialize them in preparation for their future handicapped owners.
Puppy "parents" are free to take their canine friends on buses, in restaurants, and other public areas, since they are to be guide dogs.
For those who are worried about returning their puppies after forming a special bond with them, it is possible to bring home a "retired" dog who is more than 10 years old.
The Guide Dog School has opened a computer lab to give free classes to the blind.
The instructor, Kim Byoung-ho, is a former Samsung employee who lost his sight in 1993. He teaches the computer classes to give blind individuals a chance to benefit from computers as others have.
Samsung has worked with the family restaurant TGI Fridays to welcome guide dogs to their restaurant and to promote awareness of the important role that guide dogs have in helping the blind both in their homes and in the community.
The school is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m to 12 a.m. There is no entrance fee, but groups of 10 or more must make a reservation three to four days in advance.
For more information or reservations, call 031-320-8924/5.
by Kim Sun-ha