Training school aims to get more guide dogs on Hong Kong streets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 6:39pm

In five years, thirty visually impaired people could be navigating their way around the city with the help of guide dogs trained at a school to be set up here, a local association says.

There are just two working guide dogs in the city at present, both of them trained in the United States.

The Hong Kong Guide Dogs Association says it plans to open an internationally accredited school to train guide dogs and their users in the next five years, and it will recruit instructors, who will be trained overseas.

Starting this year, the association also plans to import 10 puppies from overseas annually for the next three years. Suitable puppies will be trained as guide dogs while the others will be used to help people with physical disabilities, or autistic children.

Professor David Wong Sai-hung, association chairman and ophthalmology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the puppies must be imported if they are to serve as guide dogs.

"The dogs are not just any dogs," he said. "For a puppy to be a potential guide dog, seven generations of its predecessors have to be working guide dogs and proven to be effective."

Wong cited Deanna - a Labrador retriever and guide dog to association vice-chairman Tsang Kin-ping - as a good example.

"Life with Deanna my guide dog" Video by Hedy Bok

"You could let off a firecracker and probably Deanna wouldn't even blink. [The guide dogs] are very docile and obedient. It's all in the genetics," he said.

Wong said the association wrote to the government earlier this month seeking a non-residential rural site on which to open a training school, where guide dogs and users can train and live together for 26 days.

But a Development Bureau spokeswoman said no such application had been received.

Wong said the dogs would do much of their training on city streets, so difficulties securing land would not necessarily impede the plan. And he was confident the school would be accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation within five years.

The association set up a guide dogs health support fund that will provide up to HK$4,000 for each dog's health checks, flea treatment, vaccines and surgery. The Lee Hysan Foundation has pledged HK$4.27 million to the association. 

Some 11,500 Hongkongers are completely unable to see, the Society of the Blind says, yet there is still no guide-dog culture here.