The former Paralympic athlete, who suffers from partial blindness, is now the proud owner of Beijing’s first guide dog.

"He is like my eyes," Ping gushed yesterday. "It is like I can see things again."

"Lucky" is a 19-month-old golden retriever, one of the first five guide dogs that recently graduated from a training center affiliated to Dalian Medical University in Liaoning.

Ping, who won China’s first gold in long jump at the 1984 New York Paralympic Games, was chosen as one of the first recipients of the new seeing dogs; and Lucky has been assigned to her for the next 10 years.

But after having Lucky for only four weeks, Ping realized that she cannot fully take advantage of her companion’s abilities.

Regulations in Beijing restrict ownership of large dogs; and dogs are barred from entering public places.

In addition, the city does not recognize guide dogs but Ping said police informed her that Lucky could be taken outside, but in a self-defeating compromise – only in the company of an able-bodied person.

She has been advised to go to Beijing’s animal husbandry and veterinary bureau to get Lucky recognized as a guide dog, which would then enable police registration without charge.

Ping said she hopes regulations are amended so that visually impaired people and their seeing dogs are exempted from the restriction.

"We were not allowed to enter subway stations, buses and sometimes even taxis," Ping, a torchbearer for the 2008 Olympic Games, said.

Setbacks aside, Ping has already established good rapport with her new friend.

During her first walk with Lucky, the dog helped guide her down stairs, one of the more difficult challenges for a blind person.

"At that moment, I virtually burst into tears," Ping said. "Lucky reduces the risk of injuring myself when I go out."

Their relationship began with Lucky’s trainer, Song Yali, familiarizing Ping with certain commands.

"He never bites anyone," said Song, who stayed with Ping and the gold-furred Lucky for four weeks so that the transition was smooth. "They are one of the nicest breeds in the world."

Lucky guides Ping across roads, not by recognizing the color of traffic lights, but by watching traffic flows.

Lucky recognized the word "Gongyuan", which means park, after being shown it only a couple of times.

Golden retrievers are considered one of the best breeds for guide dogs because of their intelligence and friendly disposition.

The Dalian Medical University Center, where Lucky was trained, was established two years ago.

It is now training some 30 canines for visually impaired athletes to raise awareness about facilities for the blind.

It takes eight months and costs about 100,000 yuan ($13,500) to train a guide dog.

Ping’s first exposure to guide dogs was at the New York Paralympics, where many blind athletes from European countries and the United States had their own seeing dogs.

"It has taken more than 20 years for China to have guide dogs," Ping said wistfully.

About 12.3 million people in the country suffer from some form of visual impairment, including total blindness.

Some blind people work as masseurs, and Ping herself runs a massage clinic.

The first training schools were established in Germany during World War I to help returning veterans blinded in combat.