Training to unleash possibilities for the blind

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 4:50am

The training of two Hongkongers who it is hoped will spearhead the development of guide dogs for the blind in the city is set to begin in Britain later this month.

The Hong Kong Guide Dogs Association hopes the specialist training of Garrick Poon Kwok-wai and Cherrie Wu Ching-yee - who were selected from 50 candidates - will help secure international recognition for the organisation, one of only two groups that provide canine help for the city's blind.

There are 11,400 totally blind people in Hong Kong, but just six guide dogs. Relations between the association and the breakaway Seeing Eye Dog Services are strained.

Poon, 27, and Wu, 25, will receive two years' training from Guide Dogs UK, followed by a further 18 months on their return to Hong Kong.

The association hopes they will become the "core professionals" who will run the association after they graduate.

At present, the association has four guide dogs from the United States that serve people with visual impairment. Seeing Eye Dog Services has two. Neither organisation is a member of the International Guide Dog Federation.

Veteran US guide dog instructor Brian Francis, who was recently hired by the association to take care of training and accreditation matters, said he hoped the association would be accredited to the federation in five years, guaranteeing training and service quality.

The association was set to receive a group of puppies for training from overseas guide dog groups within the next two months, said Francis, adding that he would be responsible for the training of Poon and Wu when they returned.

It was a love of dogs that made the pair apply for the job. Poon started a group-buying website business three years ago after studying industrial engineering in the US, but he discovered his true passion was in dog training.

He then worked at a kennel to learn how to train dogs.

"That was more about punishment training and I wasn't interested in that. So I quit and applied for the Guide Dogs Association's job," he said.

Wu, 25, completed her studies in hospitality management in Britain a few years ago.

She was in Britain when the association told her she had been selected for the final interviews.

"I was so excited I bought a ticket home immediately," she said.