A row has broken out over the custody of Hong Kong's only two guide dogs, Google and Iris.
Raymond Cheung Wai-man, the city's sole licensed instructor, resigned from the board of the Hong Kong Guide Dogs Association on Tuesday after he told Google's foster family he would take the animal for seven days' training.
In his e-mail announcing his move, he also claimed ownership of both dogs. While Cheung said the dogs, donated by the Taiwan Guide Dog Association, had always belonged to him, the Hong Kong association said it considered the dogs 'stolen' and threatened to sue him.
Google was flown to the city in January, and Iris arrived three months later - the first guide dogs in Hong Kong since 1975. They have been staying with foster families.
Tsang Kin-ping of the Hong Kong association said it would take legal action if Cheung refused to return the dogs to them. 'We've sought legal advice, and we think it's a strong case for us,' Tsang said. 'Legally we own the dogs. Now it's like they're stolen.'
The association would look for a new instructor overseas, he said.
Cheung confirmed the two dogs were with him, and said the Taiwan association gave him the dogs because of his qualification as an instructor. They were never directed to be given to the Hong Kong group, a recently established non-governmental organisation. He quit because he did not agree with its vision, but declined to elaborate. 'From the very beginning, the dogs belonged to me. I will continue to train the dogs and they will be ready around June.'
Cheung said he would give the dogs to people and associations in need when they were ready, but would not say how he would communicate with the Hong Kong association on the arrangement.
Fanny Chan Yim-fan, who fostered Google, said Cheung had requested the seven days of training a week ago, and she handed the dog over at 5pm on Tuesday in Causeway Bay. About half an hour later, she received an e-mail from Cheung who said he would leave the association and the dogs belonged to him. 'I'm very worried. I treated him like my son,' she said. 'It's really difficult for me to comprehend what's happening. I haven't been able to sleep.'
She said she met Cheung on Wednesday when Google was taken to a vet, who found the tendons in his hind legs injured. Cheung refused the family's request to let them celebrate Christmas with Google, Chan said.
William Chen, general manager of Taiwan Guide Dog Association, said it donated the dogs to Cheung because they believed he could train them well. 'If it had not been for Raymond, we wouldn't have sent the dogs to Hong Kong.'
According to the Society of the Blind, about 11,500 Hongkongers are completely unable to see. But guide dogs have yet to become common, with regulations banning canines from many public areas.