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在线翻译:
szdaily -> People
American helps kids with therapy dog
     2015-December-18  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    Zhang Yang

    nicolezyyy@163.com

    GREGORY LAWRENCE BERMONT and his Great Dane, Max, would quickly become surrounded by parents and children when he takes the dog for walks in a park in Shekou.

    Many parents wonder if Max is a donkey or a horse because the giant dog is about 1.1 meters tall. Most children fear Max when they first see him, but they eventually get close enough to pet Max with Bermont’s encouragement. “Don’t be afraid. Come on, he won’t bite you,” Bermont says.

    Bermont has trained Max as a therapy dog that does not bite or bump into children. Sometimes the pet-parent has to protect Max from overly excited kids. The 53-year-old with a master’s degree in education left his home in Chicago, the United States, in January last year with Max and came to China with a vision of helping kids with special needs.

    Bermont’s first stop was Qingyuan City in Guangdong, where he and Max were highly praised by local media after they volunteered to help many autistic children. He came to Shenzhen in November last year in hopes of starting a center to help more autistic kids or children with other behavioral issues.

    “When you see children acting out or making noise or doing something that would be considered naughty behavior, it’s because they are frustrated and they don’t know how to tell you what they want or how they are feeling,” said Bermont.

    He added that autistic children actually want to make connections with other people and the outside world, but they just don’t know how. “It’s like they are locked in their brains, and I need to help them unlock the door to get out,” he said.

    A report released by the China Foundation for Disabled Persons in April showed that currently there are over 10 million autistic patients in China, including 2 million autistic children under age 14. The report also noted that about one in 100 people in China has autism while in the United States one out of 68 people is autistic.

    Bermont said he believed the number in China is lower only because fewer kids are getting tested. He said many parents in China don’t want to have a doctor see their kids because they don’t want to lose face. “I want to reach such parents because I want them to know it’s okay to have a kid who is not perfect,” he added.

    As a therapy dog, Max is like a co-worker to Bermont. He said lots of scientific data in the West shows therapy dogs have a significant impact on lowering people’s blood pressure and heart rate in order to reduce anxiety and stress. “Even petting a dog, whether it’s a therapy dog or not, can really help relax people,” Bermont said.

    Bermont has dealt with kids acting like bullies at school. He told them to write a letter and read it to Max, and most kids ended up feeling better after letting out their frustrations by writing down their emotions and talking to Max.

    “There are many different things you can do with kids who have different kinds of issues. It depends on how creative the teacher or the therapist is,” he said.

    When Bermont met Max in June 2011, Max was a show dog that was about to be put down by his owners, but Bermont took him in and saved his life. “They either gave him to me or they would kill him because he was not perfect enough to get in a top professional level and they didn’t want to spend any more money on him,” he said.

    Max was not in good condition when Bermont first brought him home, so he took care of him, trained him and even had to teach him how to play because he never played as a puppy because of his work.

    One weekend, Bermont wanted to take Max to help kids who were living in hospitals, but they were told by a hospital staffer that Max must be certified as a therapy dog to do that.

    As a result, Bermont spent six months training Max and signed him up for a test hosted by Therapy Dog International, a nonprofit organization that certifies therapy dogs in the United States. Max passed the test on his first try, something Bermont said only about 20 percent of dogs accomplish.

    But Bermont finally decided to devote himself to helping kids after he met an autistic boy named Harry, who was his daughter’s classmate. Harry’s parents kept him away from Max at the beginning, but later they realized that Max was a good influence on Harry because he liked drawing cartoons and he made Max a superhero in his pictures.

    “It got me thinking that if I can have this success with little Harry, can you imagine if I was actually focusing on working with kids,” Bermont said.

    All Bermont wants now is to open a center in China to help more kids, train more dogs and get more Chinese to be therapists. He is also considering working with dog rescue organizations so that some rescued dogs can be trained as therapy dogs.

    “I need a Chinese partner, because as a Westerner I can’t do it alone,” he said, adding he also needs someone to help with business aspects. But he wouldn’t mind if the center was run like a business or a nonprofit body, as long as it provides the best services for kids.

    One thing that Bermont knows for sure is that he is prepared to spend the rest of his life in China achieving this goal. “If it takes me the rest of my life to impact China in a positive way, then I will commit to it, as long as China wants me,” he added.

    Bermont said he can also do the same thing in the United States, but he stays here because animal-assisted therapy is still new in China.

    Chen Minjie, a project manager at Animals Asia Foundation, said there are currently 127 in-service therapy dogs in China certified by the foundation, with 38 of them living in Shenzhen.

    The Hong Kong-headquartered foundation has initiated a project that certifies therapy dogs in China, the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Japan, and the project was first launched on the Chinese mainland in 2004.

    “Great progress has been made this year because a few hospitals in Guangzhou and Shenzhen started letting our therapy dogs visit patients,” Chen said, adding that most hospitals on the Chinese mainland still shut their doors to therapy dogs.

    Now, Bermont mainly helps people with emotional problems and kids with dyslexia, autism or other behavioral issues. As he doesn’t have a work visa, he and Max are basically surviving on people’s donations and are burdened by the financial stress.

    According to Bermont, Max’s dog food costs 3,000 yuan per month, and since few cabs will accept a giant dog like Max, they have to hire a private car when they need to go anywhere, which costs Bermont a few hundred yuan each time. Recently, he had to move to another apartment in Shekou because his former landlord raised the rent.

    Max is already 6 years old and his life expectancy is seven to 10 years, so Bermont is well aware that they don’t have much time left.

    “He could actually go at any time,” Bermont said. Max just survived a surgery in late October because of an obstruction in his intestinal tract, which upset Bermont very much because he thought he was going to lose Max.

    Max’s physical condition makes Bermont cherish every single chance they have to help a kid with special needs or motivate others to do so.

    “I’m not the one who is going to make a significant change, but hopefully I can help open a door for other people to follow me,” he added.

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