Frequently asked questions
In 1975, two Seeing Eye Dogs were donated by a German Resident in Hong Kong. The dogs, both female, were known as Winta and Opal. With the help from The Hong Kong Society for the Blind, the young dogs were trained in Australia and matched with users. Unfortunately, in those days there was no qualified trainer to follow up the after-matching support, the service just ended after both dogs died. It was until July 18, 2012 when the first locally trained SEEING EYE DOG, Google, was matched with Mr. David Wong, a visually impaired. It is a vital move in the history of Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Service.
A Seeing Eye Dog is a special kind of working dog trained to guide the visually impaired, helping them to move independently wherever they need to go. For example, a Seeing Eye Dog helps its user to avoid obstacles and sudden road hazards in order to arrive at their destination safely.
A Seeing Eye Dog can provide easy and very effective mobility to the visually impaired. With the help of a Seeing Eye Dog, the visually impaired can walk around with great flexibility and confidence, thus travelling more freely and independently in the street without requiring assistance from third parties. A Seeing Eye Dog is not only an aide to the visually impaired. It is also the source of comfort and companionship.
- You can serve as our volunteer in different ways. For instance, you may join our activities, provide clerical support or be the puppy walker of our young dog (short-term or long-term). For more details, please contact us through our website or Facebook page.
When you encounter a Seeing Eye Dog you should remember the four Rules or better known as the “3 Don’ts” and “1 Do”.
- • Don’t yell: Don’t make noises or gestures to catch the attention of the dog.
- • Don’t pet: Don’t pet or touch the dog without permission from the handler.
- • Don’t feed: Don’t offer any kinds of food to the dog.
Do offer assistance: When you see a visually impaired user with his/her SEEING EYE DOG getting lost, do ask if the person needs your assistance. That is always helpful and appreciated.
Remember, every citizen plays a part. We thank everyone in the community for making users and their SEEING EYE DOG having access to public places.
A Seeing Eye Dog, unlike a taxi-driver, does not know where to go unless having instructions from the user who must know how to reach the destination. The user has to instruct the Seeing Eye Dog when to turn left/right or to go forward. The job of the Seeing Eye Dog is to recognize and avoid obstacles that may put the user in danger. All users must possess good sense of orientation.
While most Seeing Eye Dog training schools collaborate by donating dogs and puppies to each other, almost in all cases the medium of instruction is English. For the safety of the user, nobody other than the user should give instructions to a Seeing Eye Dog so as not to confuse the dog.
Trainers in Hong Kong use English when they train Seeing Eye Dogs because it is easier for the dogs to learn the commands! English commands offer single word and sound which is much simpler for them to identify. Using English commands also helps avoiding distractions in the street. Since most conversations in public areas are in Cantonese and they are less likely to catch the dog’s attention.
Never feed a Seeing Eye Dog when it is working. There have been cases where Seeing Eye Dogs were distracted by food, causing injuries to their users, or even road accidents. Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dogs Services feeds its dogs with a special, highly nutritious diet to maintain their good health. A Seeing Eye Dog can’t afford to get sick on the job eating the wrong food.
Seeing Eye Dogs are kept well-groomed at all times and receive veterinary check-ups and vaccinations on a regular basis. Qualified Seeing Eye Dogs will never threaten people or other animals. They will also never wander off, beg for food, bark when working or defecate in public.
When a Seeing Eye Dog is on duty (guiding its master and wearing the harness), do not play with it, touch it or call its name. Such actions distract its attention. This does not mean, however, that one can play with a Seeing Eye Dog when it is not wearing its harness. It is advisable to consult its master first. If you are walking a dog, it is advisable to lead your dog away from the Seeing Eye Dog to avoid affecting the Seeing Eye Dog’s work.
Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog services are free to the visually impaired. Applicants will be assessed by qualified professionals with respect to sense of orientation and walking ability. Successful applicants then participate in a training programme of their own. Upon completion and matching with a suitable Seeing Eye Dog, the user then begins their full relationship with the dog.
The applicant must be a Hong Kong resident aged between 18 and 65 irrespective of sex and financial status. They must be certified as “Visually Impaired” by a Hong Kong medical doctor and the Social Welfare Department, and not having other major health problems or bad habits. They should be psychologically mature and steady, applying for the services of their own choice because of work, study or social activities, and not because of pressure from family members or friends. They also need to demonstrate their ability to independently walk three regular routes with proper sense of orientation. While they do not need to be wealthy, they are expected at least to be sufficiently financially independent to bear all living and medical costs of the dog.
Normally, a 7-month puppy (after a process of selection for temperament and health) will be assigned to a pre-selected puppy walker to learn the basic rules of living with human beings. These include proper toilet habits, as well as general behaviour in visiting restaurants, cinemas, opera houses, schools, libraries, etc. The puppy will be taught to lie down quietly under seats when on board various kinds of transportation, and will be trained to adapt to various environments such as shopping malls, supermarkets, traditional wet markets and different kinds of terrains, escalators, staircases, etc. This socialization process helps it to be accepted and to function as a member of the society. At the age of one to one-and-a-half, the young dog will return to the Training Centre where it will receive training and assessment from a professional trainer. After another year of intensive training, the matching process will start, followed by a 2-month “Joint Training” period with the visually impaired person with whom it is successfully matched. If everything goes as planned, the new Seeing Eye Dog then receives its “Passing-Out”. However, this is not the end of the relationship between the trainer and the dog. For the rest of its service life, the trainer will offer support in the form of follow-up visits and counseling services on a continuing basis.
- It is agree internationally among all SED training schools that all Seeing Eye Dog are provided to the visually impaired for free.
- After the visually impaired applies for a SED, the trainer will access his/her mobility and sense of orientation and match with appropriate dog. After the completion of the training, the applicant can own a SED. Before successfully match, all cost involved in breeding, training, medication and rearing are responsible by HKSEDS.
- After matching the SED with the applicant, all costs include food, vaccination, medication, etc. are responsible by the visually impaired user. However, the cost involved will be less if sponsorship is available.
Firstly, not all visually impaired people need or are suitable to use Seeing Eye Dogs. In fact, according to the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), the ideal ratio between the visually impaired and Seeing Eye Dogs is 100:1. From the standpoint of the applicant’s need, consideration is given to practical living requirements such as working, schooling or social interactions. Requirements for the user would include such things as a certain level of mobility, ability of navigation, sense of balance, and a reasonable level of hearing.
- First of all, we have to understand that visual impairment is a fact of life in every society. In general, the more developed a society is, the more attention it will give to the rights and interests of the vulnerable minority. The US has developed Seeing Eye Dogs for almost 80 years, with over 25 training centers. Japan has 45 years of Seeing Eye Dog training experience, with over 10 training centers. Considering the overall benefits to the society brought about by the improved and more productive lifestyle of the visually impaired, we believe that the manpower and resources devoted to the development of Seeing Eye Dog are proven to be a good investment.
- According to overseas experience, Seeing Eye Dog users feel that the dogs transform the way they live, greatly improving their quality of life. To the visually impaired, this is far more important than the “economic benefits”. Their ability to live a more independent and productive life is of benefit not only to them but to our society as a whole.
- In terms of the convenience to the visually impaired, Seeing Eye Dogs are much better than the traditional white cane. This is because dogs have the ability to avoid obstacles actively, while the white cane only provides passive feedback. As the living standard of the Hong Kong people improves over time, the visually impaired in Hong Kong should possess the right in choosing the service of Seeing Eye Dogs.
- Once the visually impaired use Seeing Eye Dogs, they can join more outdoor activities. In this way, our society will have more opportunities to understand their need and improve their living standard. This benefit can never be assessed by financial figures.
- Although the majority of the visually impaired in Hong Kong work in massage or computer related jobs, they should not be confined to these occupations.
- In foreign countries, Seeing Eye Dogs have clearly shown they can help increasing the working opportunities of the visually impaired. Seeing Eye Dog users are able to demonstrate their individual mobility as normal person. This will remove the worry of employers that the employment of the visually impaired will incur additional cost for the company. Hence the employment opportunities for visually impaired will be increased.
- During the 911 terrorist attack in the U.S., a blind sales professional in Wall Street, Mark Yansome, was working on the 78th floor of the North Wing of the World Trade Centre and was trapped there after the explosions. With fire and smoke spreading quickly in the last 30 minutes before the building collapsed, people were scrambling to escape. In spite of the panic around him, Mark’s Seeing Eye Dog, Russell did not leave his side. Instead, he calmly led Mark down the narrow emergency stairs to safety, bringing along a group of Mark’s clients who were unfamiliar with the building. In fact, records show that there were two Seeing Eye Dogs working in the World Trade Centre at the time. Both of them brought their owners safely to the ground.
- According to the regulations of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), all countries follow the same regulations and guidelines in selecting Seeing Eye Dogs.
- During the 1-year training period, if the candidate dog does not have the will to serve and does not enjoy the training, the dog will definitely not be chosen to be a Seeing Eye Dog. We never coerce a dog to continue training as this could jeopardize the safety of the visually impaired later.
- When Seeing Eye Dogs are in service, professionals from HKSEDS will stay in regular contact with them and their users, ensuring that the visually impaired treat the dogs with a correct and friendly attitude. At the same time, there will be veterinarians responsible for the necessary medical and health assessments of the dog. These measures ensure that we meet the highest standard of human treatment toward all the Seeing Eye Dogs. The public can also play a surveillance role by reporting acts of abuse of Seeing Eye Dogs. HKSEDS and related organizations will take immediate action to ensure that all Seeing Eye Dogs are humanely treated.
- By the time when a Seeing Eye Dog reaches the age of 10 to 12, it is considered elderly. Just like human beings, when Seeing Eye Dogs get old, their health deteriorates. Their reaction time will be longer. They will move slower. Their ability to concentrate worsens. When the working ability of the dog decreases, there may be risk of endangering the user. Consequently, for the well-being of the dog as well as the safety of the visually impaired, older dogs are observed and assessed more often, and at some stage retirement will be arranged.
- At this point, the first priority to keep the dog goes to the original visually impaired user. However, some visually impaired people may not be able to take care of the dog due to various factors. In such cases, the original “puppy walker” of the retired dog or other newly accepted “puppy walker” will be eligible to adopt the retired dog and look after it for the rest of its life. In many overseas countries, many families apply to adopt retiring Seeing Eye Dogs because these dogs are well trained in many aspects, particularly in hygiene.
- Seeing Eye Dogs serve their visually impaired masters with their best efforts for their whole life. They deserve the respect and honor upon their death. In Japan, to express the gratitude and deep emotions toward Seeing Eye Dogs, on every last Sunday of September, users, trainers, puppy walkers and other related groups gather at Jikeiin (慈惠院) Tokyo to pay tribute to them. In the hearts of these people, Seeing Eye Dogs are not merely dogs but also a member of their family. They cherish them the way they would cherish their deceased family members.
Please do not take picture while the Seeing Eye Dogs are in work, as the flash will distracted them. When the dogs are in rest, you may take photo with them after seeking the approval of the user. Please remind that “DO NOT USE FLASH LIGHT”.
If our Seeing Eye Dogs are under training or work near the escalator, it will stop for 2-3 seconds in order to lengthen the distance with other users. Please keep a few steps away from the users and the dog and avoid cutting the line. It is because the visually impaired user cannot see the distance clearly and can easily cause accidents.