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West Japan center recruiting families to care for guide dog candidate puppies on weekends

A volunteer family strokes a puppy that would spend weekends with them, at the completion ceremony of the 12th term Puppy Project in Hamada, Shimane Prefecture, on June 27, 2021. (Mainichi/Kenichi Kayahara)

HAMADA, Shimane -- A guide dog training center in this west Japan city with a program working with prison inmates to raise guide dog candidate puppies is looking for volunteers to care for the animals at home on weekends.

    The Puppy Project is a social contribution project in its 12th term. Puppies are entrusted to inmates at the Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center, a prison adjacent to the Japan Guide Dog Association's Shimane Asahi Training Center, for rehabilitation through breeding. So far, 66 puppies have been raised --14 of them now work as guide dogs for blind or vision-impaired people.

    Volunteer "weekend puppy walkers" play an important role in helping guide dogs develop social skills needed at home and on the streets. On weekends, they take care of them on the inmates' behalf, take them out and give them rides in vehicles. Although they don't see the inmates face to face, they inform each other of the puppy's condition via the breeding journal.

    This photo shows a journal kept by an inmate at the Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Hamada, Shimane Prefecture, on June 27, 2021. (Mainichi/Kenichi Kayahara)

    Previously, the organization tended to rely on families with experience accepting dogs. In an effort to expand its scope, they are now calling for cooperation from residents of the three cities of Hamada and Gotsu in Shimane Prefecture, and Hiroshima.

    The completion ceremony for the 12th term's puppy walkers was held on June 27, with three Hiroshima families and one from Hamada bidding farewell as they returned to the association four Labrador Retrievers they had spent weekends with for eight months.

    One family of four in Hiroshima who accepted a puppy for the first time said, "We were a little worried, but looked forward to seeing the puppy grow. We took them to the beach and the river every weekend, and our family bond was strengthened, too."

    Regarding the inmates who communicated with them through the journals, the family said, "We could see how much they loved the puppy. There were times when we could sense a change in the prisoners' mind."

    The four animals were moved to the Kanagawa Training Center on July 6.

    Applicants for the puppy walkers must be able to pick up and drop off puppies every Friday afternoon and Monday morning at the Shimane Asahi Training Center in Hamada, the Hiroshima office in Asakita Ward, or the area around the Hiroshima Seifushinto Interchange on the Sanyo Expressway. Dog owners and people living alone are not eligible. The applications deadline is mid-September. For inquiries, please contact the training center at 0855-45-8311.

    (Japanese original by Kenichi Kayahara, Hamada Local Bureau)

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