First guide dog in years hits streets with master

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2012, 12:00am


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Hong Kong's first guide dog in more than 30 years - a Labrador retriever named Google - graduated from training yesterday even as rival guide-dog groups continued to war over who his rightful owner is.

Despite the ownership fight, the one-year-old retriever was capped with a mortar board and handed over to his delighted new master, David Wong Man-chiu, 62, who has been blind for 20 years.

'I attended Google's birthday party last year just because I was curious to learn a bit more about guide dogs,' Wong said. 'I had only seen one on TV 37 years ago. I never thought I would own one one day.'

Guide dogs have been non-existent in Hong Kong since the last one was struck by a car 36 years ago and an expert deemed the city too noisy and crowded for their safety.

Wong said he was pleased that Hongkongers seemed to accept Google's presence as the pair trained together.

'When I took the MTR with Google for the first time, I was relieved that he did not cause any panic among passengers,' said Wong. 'I took him to the elderly centre where I work as a volunteer and it was all right, too.'

Google will live with Wong until death or scheduled retirement at age 11. At that point, Wong will have to decide whether to keep him or send him to live with another family.

Handing Google to Wong should for all practical purposes end the months-long ownership fight between the dog's trainer, Raymond Cheung Wai-man, and Cheung's former employer, the Hong Kong Guide Dogs Association.

Nonetheless, both sides continued to claim ownership of Google, as well as another guide dog, Iris.

The dispute broke out when Cheung - the city's sole licensed guide-dog instructor - left the association and, with Google and Iris, set up his own group, Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services.

The association blamed Cheung for a collapse in mediation talks and would not rule out further action. But Cheung said Wong and Google could not be separated.

'This won't change, no matter what the result of the mediation is,' Cheung said.