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Gov't eyes certification system for foreign assistance dogs toward Tokyo 2020

Members of organizations related to assistance dogs participate in a symposium to consider measures ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games at the First Members' Office Building of the House of Representatives, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on May 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A request to establish a certification system for assistance dogs accompanying foreign nationals so they can be used in public transport, stadiums and other facilities in the same fashion as their Japanese counterparts, was recently submitted to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The move comes ahead of an expected increase in foreign visitors with such dogs during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and was put forward by support organizations for people with disabilities that make use of assistance dogs and other groups. The ministry will consider measures for the smooth use of facilities in line with the proposal.

Under the Act on Assistance Dogs for Physically Disabled Persons, assistance dogs in Japan are defined as guide dogs, service dogs and hearing dogs, and the law requires that the canines undergo training and are certified and registered with public organizations. However, most countries don't have specific laws or public certification systems for assistance dogs. The standards vary, with some countries recognizing "therapy dogs" used in psychiatric and other care and other types of dogs not used for physical disabilities as assistance dogs, or are ambiguous as to where the line between pet and assistance dog is drawn.

During the 2017 fiscal year, the Health Ministry appointed Yokohama-based NPO Japanese Service Dog Resource Center (JSDRC) to conduct a survey and research how to best receive the various types of assistance dogs from other countries. The center presented their conclusions at a symposium held at the First Members' Office Building of the House of Representatives on May 22, the anniversary of when the Act on Assistance Dogs for Physically Disabled Persons was enacted in 2002.

The proposed measures for the smooth use of facilities include organizations belonging to the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) and Assistance Dogs International (ADI) conducting document screening in advance, before a human-canine pair set off for Japan.

The corresponding Japanese organizations would then also check the results of the document screening and issue a certificate with the name of the overseeing organization. If any trouble arose after entry into Japan, such as an owner being denied the right to be accompanied by their dog under the law, the name and contact information of the organization responsible for aiding the pair would be printed on the certificate.

"The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will challenge the true nature of our hospitality," said JSDRC chief Tomoko Hashizume. "Both people in the private and public sectors need to work against the refusal to allow people with disabilities to be accompanied by their assistance dogs."

The Health Ministry has opened an English-language website to inform foreign nationals about the Japanese legal and quarantine systems, which can be accessed at http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/policy/care-welfare/welfare-disabilities/assistance_dogs/index.html.

(Japanese original by Tomonari Takao, Hanshin Bureau)

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