Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Hong Kong Blind to Guide Dog Demand

Two of only 30 seeing-eye dogs that are working in Hong Kong
It's a sad statement of Hong Kong when you find out there are only 30 guide dogs for the 1,700 of the 170,000 visually impaired in the city.

Even though a lot of people raise dogs as pets here, not many understand the use of guide dogs or why they are crucial in helping the visually impaired get around and be independent.

Today I read that all of Hong Kong's guide dogs are from overseas -- Japan, Taiwan, the UK and United States.

But a few weeks ago, four labrador puppies were born here, and people or companies have a chance to name them if they shell out at least HK$50,000. The Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services, the centre that owns the puppies, wants the names to start with the letter "H" to denote "Hong Kong".

"It is important that we have our own guide dogs," said centre chairman Raymond Cheung Wai-man. "Hong Kong's environment, traffic and public facilities are very different form those in other places, so local dogs can provide better help to the visually impaired."

Four more potential (and cute!) guide dogs are being raised
What he says is probably correct, though I can't help but think it sounds like guide-dog security, much like growing one's own vegetables for food security reasons.

Nevertheless, having a puppy growing up used to Hong Kong's environment would definitely be of help to the visually impaired. While these puppies' parents are both guide dogs, that doesn't necessarily guarantee they will all be suitable to become guide dogs, because it depends on their temperament, obedience, ability to avoid objects and find destinations.

However, having home-grown dogs is a good start and better late than never. Cheung says it takes about a year to determine if a puppy will be suitable for further training which will take another year before they become fully-fledged guide dogs.

He also called on the government for more resources and allow public housing tenants to host dogs so that the service could develop faster in Hong Kong. Cheung said at the current rate it would take 50 years for each 1,700 visually impaired person to get a guide dog.

Again, what does that say about our city?

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