Hong Kong volunteer hopes to train more guide dogs for city’s visually impaired
Spirit of Hong Kong Awards nominee Raymond Cheung’s charity provides free Seeing Eye dog services for those who need them
Bruno, a two-year-old Labrador retriever, already has his career path mapped out. He will be following in the “pawsteps” of his parents, who are both guide dogs for the blind.
The young canine is one of dozens trained or being trained by charity Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services to lead blind and visually impaired people.
Raymond Cheung Wai-man, who set up the organisation in 2012, said the guide dog development and training services were provided free of charge for the visually impaired.
He noted that the city would need 1,700 guide dogs if just 1 per cent of the 170,000 visually impaired people in Hong Kong wanted one.
The organisation is recruiting more volunteers to house puppies chosen for guide dog training.
The volunteer “puppy walkers” are expected to teach their charges good behaviour and ensure the canines under their roof are healthy as they grow.
More volunteers are also needed to implement the organisation’s public education programmes.
A former dog and cat groomer with guide dog instructor accreditation, Cheung plans to train more instructors and develop a guide dog breeding programme for the local community.
“We want more visually impaired people to enjoy the free services,” he said.
Last year, Cheung won a volunteer award from local non-profit organisation Agency for Volunteer Service, and subsequently joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Awardees Society, which was established by the agency.
The society has recommended him for the South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards this year in the Community Contribution category.
While there is a growing awareness among Hongkongers of the rights of disabled people, Cheung noted that many members of the public might still not know how to behave around an assistance dog in service.
Guide dogs should not be touched or fed without the owner’s permission, the trainer warned, though he added that this did not mean the animals should be avoided altogether.
The canines should be given access rights to anywhere their users would go, Cheung said.
“But there is a grey area in Hong Kong law regarding access for guide dogs,” he said, citing an incident where a restaurant refused to let in a trainer with a guide dog.
Apart from accessibility issues, Cheung also questioned the decision by some pet owners to keep a guide dog.
“Labrador puppies are adorable, but this kind of guide dog needs training,” he said.
“The puppies could be abandoned if their owners eventually find out they cannot provide proper training.
“There have been too many abandoned dogs at the shelter.”