NAGOYA–A guide dog association is rekindling and spreading the story of Serve, a German shepherd who sacrificed her left foreleg to protect her master from an oncoming truck.
Based in Nagoya’s Minato Ward, the Chubu Guide Dog for the Blind Association, which had trained Serve, wants to emphasize Serve’s loyalty to her master and raise awareness of the importance of guide dogs in 2018, the Year of the Dog and the 30th anniversary of her death.
The move comes as Japan faces a serious shortage of dogs specially trained to help blind individuals.
In January 1982, Serve and her owner, Michio Kameyama, were walking on a snow-covered street in Minami (present-day Gujo city), Gifu Prefecture, when a truck lost traction and veered toward them.
Serve, still in her harness, tore away from Kameyama and ran toward the vehicle to protect him. The truck hit the dog, sending her flying for more than 8 meters.
She lost her left front leg and suffered other serious injuries. Kameyama emerged from the incident relatively unscathed.
Serve retired as a guide dog following the accident. She was known as “three-legged Serve” until she died on June 13, 1988.
“I’m a really lucky man because I could meet such a great guide dog,” Kameyama, 72, said.
Kameyama, who currently lives at a nursing-care home in Gujo, said he says “thank you” every day to a photo of Serve in his room.
After Serve’s accident, the idea spread that guide dogs are part of the “bodies” of visually impaired people, leading to the introduction of legislation allowing guide dogs to enter public facilities with their masters.
The story of Serve was included in a picture book and a supplementary textbook for elementary schools.
“Were it not for Serve, people would not have a sufficient understanding of guide dogs even now,” Kameyama said. “I want people to never forget the great hound. She is still alive in my mind.”
Serve is a symbol of the Chubu Guide Dog for the Blind Association.
A bronze statue of the German shepherd has been set up at the entrance to the association’s office, and an image of Serve appears on the chest of jackets worn by its employees.
According to a fiscal 2016 survey by the welfare ministry, 340,000 individuals in Japan have impaired vision, including an estimated 110,000 who are blind.
The association said Japan has only 1,000 guide dogs, and that more dogs must be trained as soon as possible to provide assistance to visually impaired individuals.
The association nurtures around eight guide dogs annually, but training costs 5 million yen ($45,600) each, and nearly all of the money comes from donations.
The story of Serve’s heroics has become less familiar among the public in the more than quarter-century since her death.
To counter that trend, the association holds classes about Serve every month at elementary and junior high schools in Nagoya.
Interest in the issue has gradually grown among young people, including a junior high school student who attended the special class and participated in a fund-raising campaign for guide dog training, the association said.
A memorial event is planned for June, the month that Serve died.
Junior and senior high school students will be invited, and the association will accept donations at the venue.
“We want to produce as many guide dogs as possible, as Nagoya is the hometown of Serve,” said Junji Tajima, 55, a senior official of the association.