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Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Why were guide dogs present at the Tokyo Paralympics?

The Tokyo Paralympics had a heartwarming moment as guide dogs strutted into the stadium and helped visually impaired athletes during the Opening Ceremony.

Guide dogs at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics

Guide dogs at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics (Source: Getty)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 25 Aug 2021 9:05 AM GMT

Within just two weeks of the Tokyo Summer Olympics concluding, the Tokyo Paralympics opened their curtains today at the Olympic Stadium in the Japanese capital city. Putting on a stunning yet heart-warming display centered around the theme - 'We Have Wings', the Opening Ceremony was a riot of colours and touching moments that wanted to showcase the desire of the para athletes to soar high in the face of the most excruciating adversities.

Throughout the Opening Ceremony, there were many stirring moments yet two particularly stood out. First, Afghanistan's flag with an absent team of para athletes fetched applause out of solidarity for the State now caught up in utter disorder. Ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, chaos of the most cruel, heart-breaking kind has broken out and due to such developments - the 2 para athletes, Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli had to pull out of the Games after being unable to leave their country.

However, during the Parade of Nations, it was the sight of the visually impaired athletes of Israel being escorted by guide dogs as they strutted in, wagging their tails, that brought instant smiles on the faces of the viewers. Guide dogs have been an integral part of any Opening Ceremony where athletes who are visually impaired take the aid of their guide dogs to lead the way - as has been the norm for people with blindness for a long time.

The tradition of guide dogs helping the visually impaired

Team USA para swimmer Anastasia Pagonis (Source: Anastasia Pagonis)

According to the International Guide Dog Federation, "A guide dog is a dog that has been specially trained to support a blind or visually impaired person with mobility. There are many other types of assistance dogs that support people with other disabilities, but the term guide dog is specific to dogs that support blind or visually impaired people." Usually the guide dogs are either a labrador, German shepherd or a golden retriever, who can be easily trained for this purpose.

It's no secret that dog's turn out to be quite the best friend figure to an individual and this special relationship that exists between visually impaired people and dogs go back a long way. In fact, the earliest record of a dog helping a visually impaired person is from the first-century AD where a mural depicts this at the Roman Herculaneum.

The guide dogs we see in the present day however have a different history. It was only after the First World War that the potential of dogs to become guides for the blind really dawned. As soldiers returned blinded from the war in large numbers, owing to poison gas snatching away the vision from their eyes, a German doctor, Gerhard Stalling stumbled on the idea of training dogs to guide individuals.

Currently, there are a lot of schools for guide dogs who are specifically trained for this purpose. At the Tokyo Paralympics, USA's Anastasia Pagonis, a para swimmer, will be participating after her guide dog, Radar, completely changed her life and gifted her with a fresh mindset. Pagonis was able to return to swimming after losing her eyesight with renewed freedom and confidence because of her guide dog, Radar.

Ping Yali with her guide dog, Lucky at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics (Source: China Daily)

China's first gold medallist at the Paralympic Games, Ping Yali who had Lucky as her guide dog at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Paralympics where she carried the flame had mentioned to China Daily how, "Guide dogs are eyes for the blind. They can help us go out of rooms and integrate into the society. I hope more people could enjoy the benefits brought by the guide dogs," said Ping.

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