When staff from law firm Deacons paid a visit to the Hong Chi Association's complex in Fanling for a healing holiday party on Sunday, they brought some special guests.
Children and adults receiving support from the charity, which helps people with intellectual disabilities, went wild at the sight of schnauzers, golden retrievers, Yorkshire terriers, adorable mutts and more with tinsel collars and badges proclaiming them "doctors", or therapy dogs.
"The residents were very happy, they loved interacting with the dogs, touching them," said Lilian Chiang, the senior partner at Deacons who joined the 21 staff on the trip.
About 14 students at the institute joined in the festivities, which included rousing choruses of carols, pass the parcel (or doggie bone), and decorate the Christmas tree.
Deacons is a major supporter of the annual Operation Santa Claus fundraiser. It has pledged HK$220,000 to support 18 charity beneficiaries including Animals Asia, the foundation which runs the Dr Dog programme.
The charity drive is jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, and is raising funds for the foundation to provide 200 Dr Dog visits next year. There are about 250 dogs with therapy dog certification working with Animals Asia in Hong Kong.
Deacons, the city's oldest and largest independent law firm, has been a major Operation Santa donor since 2011.
"We always support local charities, it's the place where we live," Chiang said.
Animals Asia was founded by Jill Robinson, who is well-known for her efforts in saving moon bears from the bear bile trade.
Dr Dogs have visited hospitals, rehabilitation centres and homes for elderly and disabled people since 1991.
All dogs undergo a stringent test where they are hugged, kissed, their tails and ears tugged and paws pinched, and they are subjected to loud noise.
"Pretty much all the things kids at parties might do," said Marnie Yau, the Dr Dogs programme manager.
And the dogs were troopers through the hour and a half of constant petting, loud commentators and flurry of activity in the function room. They lifted the spirits of their human friends with their patience and affection.
Even the most sceptical came around in the end to embrace the furry friends. One older gentleman, who had been a bit hesitant about the festivities, was now cuddling a Pekingese in his lap.
"It's nice to see how the dogs and people are mingling," said Gladys Ching, a lawyer with the firm. "It's heart-warming."
In the finale, they all went for a walk around the centre's garden, taking in the blue skies, and basking in the warm sunshine.
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