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Articles about seeing eye dog:

Walking with My Guide Dog

Frank Loo, the 1st guide dog user in Hong Kong

I was born in the late 1930’s during the period when Japanese were invading western China. My family fled to Macau temporarily and lived like a vagrant. After the 8-year war against Japan ended, we returned to Hong Kong, a relatively prosperous place.

During the chaotic wartime, I was a preterm of seven months. Because of poor health and malnutrition, I had very poor eyesight and was almost completely blind. I could not attend normal schools. Yet luckily I could walk and go out on my own so I did not have to stay at home all day long.

My home was near the then Yaumatei Ferry Pier. One day, my mother happily told me that there was a visitor from Social Welfare Department who promised to recommend me to study at a school for blind students. In the early 1950’s, Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired was originally a school only for blind girls who were abandoned on the street. It started accepting male blind students and would soon become a formal primary school.

On a sunny spring morning, my mother brought me to attend the lessons at Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired which was located at Pofulam Road. The school campus was really refreshing with the red 2-storey main building surrounded by trees. Looking from the sea at evening time, with the red school building in the surrounding green trees, it was really like a postcard with very beautiful scenery.

Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired was established by a German church. There was a 30-minute religious assembly before lessons every morning. There were only two male students whose age was similar to mine. All the other students were female with ages ranging from 3 to nearly 30. They all wore blue cheongsam uniform which was classically elegant.

Lessons ended at 3pm every day during these days and we were not allowed to stay after lessons ended. It was because the female dormitory was there. Moreover, all the students were required to learnt and mastered Braille before they were allowed to attend lessons in the classroom formally.

Time flied. The years of attending primary school at Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired passed in the blink of an eye. In the graduation ceremony, the headmaster of the School told us that “You now have graduated from primary school. In the short term we have no plans of establishing a secondary school. However, in the upcoming school year we shall open a new class called ‘T.C.T.’ specially for you. If you would like to join the class, you can come back to the school to apply one week before the end of the summer holidays.” I did not apply for the class nor did I know what T.C.T. course was. A few years later, the School officially became a government subsidized school and was allowed to offer junior secondary school courses.

While I was facing the uncharted future, the Hong Kong Society for the Blind and the Social Welfare Department of the Government started organizing the “Hong Kong Blind Telephone Operator Training Course”. I hesitated for several weeks before I decided to apply. And I succeeded. The main telephone switchboard was all controlled manually at that time. The switchboard was as big as a wardrobe. We must not make any wrong telephone connections, or we would be complained. And people would become bias that the blind people had no ability to be telephone operators!

After joining the telephone operator training course, I worked wholeheartedly and diligently. Everyday after the lesson ended, I would find teachers to arrange extra tutorials to teach me English and other academic subjects. After one year, as my results were generally better, the Hong Kong Society for the Blind found a job of telephone operator for me.

At that time I was the first blind telephone operator in Hong Kong. I worked in a volunteer organization called “Religious Refugee Service Society” of Lutheran World Federation. On the first day of work, I felt very excited because I could finally enter society and start working. In addition to demanding myself to have good performance at work, I also hoped to give my colleagues a good impression. I had to be neither too humble nor haughty in order to eliminate people’s misconception that blind people were hard to get along with. In this respect, I put in great efforts and luckily my hard work paid off.

One day in 1964, I changed my job to work at the Immigration Department. Although I was still a telephone operator, as a civil servant my income and welfare were much better than my previous job. Most importantly, it was a very stable job. Eight years later, a staff of the Hong Kong Society for the Blind called me and asked if I wanted to have a seeing eye dog to guide me. At that time, I was almost completely blind. I thought if there would be a dog to accompany, it would be really great. Therefore I said yes without the slightest hesitation. And the seeing eye dog changed the rest of my life…

Application for the scheme of using a seeing eye dog required me to receive 28 days of training in Australia. Then I would be allowed to bring the seeing eye dog back to Hong Kong. After that, I had to receive 6-8 more weeks of local training in Hong Kong. Applicants for this scheme had to satisfy the following criteria: firstly, the applicant must be able to go out alone; secondly, the applicant and his/her family must be love dogs; thirdly, the applicant must have a good standard of English because the applicant will have to receive training in Australia; fourthly, the home of the applicant must have enough space for the seeing eye dog to live. Ideally there should be parks nearby where the dog can be walked every day. The fee of this scheme was about 10 thousand Australian dollars (i.e. about HK $50, 000 at that time). It was free of charge because of the donations from the Germans living in Hong Kong. Why didn’t we go to Germany for training instead of Australia? It was possibly because there was no such service in Germany. Or because Australia was a member of the Commonwealth so the import of dogs would be more convenient. At the end I applied for the scheme and satisfied all the criteria. Another civil servant Ms. Lau Sau Ying and I were accepted by the scheme and went to Australia for training.

Ms. Lau Sau Ying and I were luckily chosen because of many reasons – in addition to the fact that both of us know English, we were civil servants and had more holidays. Moreover, the respective department heads were very supportive of our application. They promised to allow us to take the dog to work with us after our training. The head of Immigration Department knew I had a long leave and he thought it was the honour of the Department. They even informed the Information Services Department to hold a press conference. They also organized a farewell party for me and invited the head of all the divisions of Immigration Department. It was a cheerful and joyful party.

The journey to Australia was very relaxing and happy. Australia had very fresh air and was spacious. I had never been more excited before!

During the first week of training, the trainer in Australia selected a trained seeing eye dog for me according to my height and walking pace. It was a Labrador Retriever, Winta, of about 70 pounds with golden hair. She had to live in the same room with me for several days before we could receive outdoor training. I had to learn how to command her; how to take care of her; and how to adapt to her personality. After a few days, the trainer led Winta and me into the urban area and let me experience how to be guided by Winta.

She was an intelligent and tamed dog who understood human emotions. She was more like a child of 2-3 years old and I regarded her as my partner and not a dog. The 28 days in Australia passed in the blink of an eye. I passed my examinations and Winta passed her health assessments. On 17th October of 1975, Winta followed the Australian trainer and me back to Hong Kong by airplane. Unlike other dogs, Winta did not need to be checked in. She just lied next to me on the airplane. During the flight, she was very quiet. When we arrived and entered the guest room, there were lots of TV and newspaper reporters waiting for us. There were lots of camera flashing at us. It was noisy as many people were talking. However, Winta was calm and collected standing next to me all along. Winta was very graceful and behaved properly to the occasion. After the long interview, we finally could travel home to take a rest.

After I was back to Hong Kong, I did not resume work immediately. I brought Winta to the park nearby to play or travel to different places by bus every day to let her get used to the environment here. After these days, when I resumed my duty, my boss gave me a bigger office. Winta guided me to take bus first and then took the cross-harbour ferry to go to work. She led me to the office relaxingly and confidently. Then she lied next to me and waited quietly until I finished work every day. During my way home or to the office, people saw us walking smartly with me. She appeared to be agile and nimble thus receiving lots of praise from the people. She guided me to avoid the obstacles on the road. When there was scaffolding above which was too low and would hit my head, she would notify me so that I could avoid the scaffolding above. It was more interesting when we were on our way home after work every day, if I told her “go home”, she would lead me to the Star Ferry Pier; if I said “go to mother”, she would lead me to the United Pier.

Sometimes when I was bored and just sitting there, she was very understanding and would come to me to play with me. She was not like a dog at all because she was more like my daughter! However, the good time did not last long. After several years, she passed away due to a traffic accident. I was very sad. Another civil servant Ms. Lau Sau Ying’s seeing eye dog also passed away after several years due to cancer. Ms. Lau also passed away later. I tried to apply for another guide dog from Australia but they tactfully rejected on the ground that the environment and facilities in Hong Kong were not suitable for the work and living of seeing eye dogs.

It took me long long time to recover from the sadness of losing Winta.

One day in the early 1990’s, a Government official suddenly called me that the Queen of the United Kingdom would like to award me the Member of the British Empire (M.B.E.) and asked me if I was willing to accept. I thought I did not have many outstanding virtues or abilities so how could I accept the great honour of M.B.E.? However, later I learnt to understand that ---- although I did not have impressive great achievements, yet accepting the honour of M.B.E. would allow the public to know that visually impaired people can also have outstanding performance in a working environment like people of normal vision. Thus the working abilities of the visually-impaired people are also recognized. Most importantly, I think Winta also contributed a lot to my award of M.B.E. Therefore, on the New Year day, I (and Winta) received the medal of M.B.E.!

The Lifelong Promise between My Seeing Eye Dog and Me

Ms. Wong Ming Wai – An Overseas User

My name is Wong Ming Wai. I became a student of Ebenezer School and Home for the Blind when I entered Secondary 1 in the year 1993. I went to Toronto in Canada in 1997.

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My seeing eye dog was called Lulu and she was a female Labrador. Nine years ago, I brought her back from the Guide Dog School for the Blind in Oregon of the United States, and since then we became very close and did everything together. Lulu is very easygoing and optimistic and has very good manners. She is very obedient and never lost her temper. Even when she was sick, she still fulfilled her duty as a seeing eye dog. She has a very loving heart and likes to be with humans. She is by my side every day and she is my eyes. In the winter, she loves to stay next to my feet and I can feel the warmth radiated from the bottom of my heart to my feet. She even hugs my flip-flop as a doll when she sleeps! She knows I am scared of walking stairs, so she always slows down when we are at stairs and guides me through the stairs very carefully. Lulu has guided me through many important moments of my life, including my baptism, graduation from secondary school and my university graduation ceremony. We have experienced all these together. Now Lulu is no longer young, yet is still so sanguine, passionate and serves wholeheartedly without any regrets.

Very soon in the near future, she will lead me onto the stage again to receive my Master degree and receive the honour together with me.

My Closest Friend – Winta

Frank Loo, The first user of Seeing Eye Dog in Hong Kong

Winta is a labrador seeing eye dog. I was his master. No, I was her best friend. Her presence did change the rest of my life!

I was born during the Japanese invasion of China. To avoid the war, my pregnant mother fled to Hong Kong from Guangzhou through Macau and I was born on the way. With the lack of proper care, I was born with only 20% visual ability and thus could not attend normal school. Yet such impairment did not stop me from playing with kids in the neighbour. However, when we grew older, all my friends of the same age started their schooling leaving me wandering in the streets alone or day dreaming at home.

One day thanks to the referral by Social Welfare Department, I was admitted to Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired. At that time, there were only me and two other boys, the rest were girls. I had my primary education here. One day the principle told me that they could not afford to administer the secondary school curriculum. I was very disappointed.

While feeling frustrated about the future, the news about a group of well known musicians preparing to set up a music academy for the blind came by. Having studied piano in Ebenezer School and a music lover, I thought musical knowledge would be helpful to my career. So I joined the academy. But in a year’s time, my dream vanished as the academy did not fulfill its commitment.

Fortunately, the Social Welfare Department and the Society for the Blind in UK was launching a series of programs for the blind in Hong Kong and one of them was training of telephone operator. I applied and was admitted. I told myself that I must not fail this time. I even engaged private tutor to improve in certain weak subjects. After the course, five of us were referred to jobs by Social Welfare Department. I was the first visually impaired to work as a telephone operator in the Immigration Department. Both my family and I were very excited about this arrangement. I promised to myself that I would do my best so that I would not be discriminated or become a burden to my colleagues. In a year’s time, my other classmates were also employed proving our gradual acceptance by the general public.

As I grew old, my visual ability was declining and became 100% after a serious illness! From then on, I found it extremely challenging to travel to my work place in Central from Wong Tai Sin by taking a bus ride to Tsimshatsui and the Star ferry every day. One day, a phone call from The Hong Kong Society for the Blind told me a German resident in Hong Kong would like to sponsor two visually impaired (VI) to learn the use of SED in Australia. The objective was to introduce this service to Hong Kong if this pilot scheme proved to be successful. Many VI would be benefited from the services. After a screening process, I and a lady were fully qualified and headed to Australia for a 4-week training to learn how to live with a SED, use of commands, etc. Upon completion, we returned to Hong Kong with the SED and the trainer. During the 9-hour flight, Winta stayed quietly beside me in the cabin. As I was the employee of the Immigration Department, my senior and the Information Services Department jointly made a lot of publicity about this service before and after my trip to Australia. With all the lights flashing during the press conferences, Winta, as expected, managed to remain calm throughout the interviews and eventually arrived at home.

In the following three weeks, the trainer taught me and Winta how to adapt to the local traffic and the daily living and how to communicate with each other. When Winta and I walked in the street, I could feel we had attracted a lot of envious eyesight. It was incredible that Winta managed to take me around so freely by dodging around obstacles like scaffolding. It seemed that she knew my height and chose to detour when in doubt. This greatly enhanced my confidence and enriched my social circle as well.

After the holidays, Winta and I started to work. I woke up one hour earlier to take Winta for the toilet routines yet I did not feel tired. Winta and I gradually built up the friendship. I would share with her my feeling and she would signify her appreciation by leaning her head against me. Could anyone feel bad when a good friend was accompanying in the street? Thanks to the department which saved a place for Winta to stay while I was working. After office hours, when we left the International Building, I told Winta, “Go home.” She would lead me to the Star Ferry. If I said, “Go to mother”, she would take me to the Yaumati Ferry to Jordon Road where my mother lived. She was very reliable and accommodating. At one time, my lady colleague was feeling sick on board the ferry. I told Winta, “Hurry to office. We need help.” She did walk quickly to our office.

One evening after four years, I took Winta to piss and exercise by the hillside. I unleashed her and she ran towards the hillside happily. After 30 minutes, I heard a sharp braking sound and then I heard Winta moaning. I ran towards the sound and found her knocked down by a van. I held her in my arms and realised she was badly wounded by her twitching body. I felt the world frozen except Winta and me. Her body turned cold and eventually stopped twitching. She left me. I forgot how time passed by and how much tear I shed. I returned home helplessly and called the Department of Health to handle her corpse. I hated the illegal parking on the pedestrian walk thus forcing Winta to on the road and the irresponsible driver who fled away afterwards. It took me three years to recover from the incident.

Ten years from Winta’s death, I received a notice from the Government Secretariat that I would be awarded the MBE honour on the Queen’s birthday to commend my compassion to the civil service. I thought this honour should be shared with Winta. Without her help in building up my confidence and social network, these would not happen. This reminded me of her again. After 10 years, I retired but not my wife. My kids all got married. I stayed at home alone and triggered my memory of her. In those days, when I felt bored she would come and tease me. When the children cried, she would reach them earlier than me! She was just part of the family.

Yesterday through a friend I met an old neighbour of Wong Tai Sin. She asked if I remembered the girl who bagged to hold Winta. I recalled I used to pass by her home with Winta but she was a child. I was afraid of that Winta might hurt her. So I refused her request a few times before she succeeded. It surprised me that there were other neighbours still remembering her, not just me.

Winta, you are always in my mind!

Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services

Frank Loo, The first user of Seeing Eye Dog in Hong Kong

Three years ago when I was at home someone called me and introduced himself as Raymond Cheung. He said he was a seeing eye dog trainer living in New Zealand. He contacted me because his research revealed that I was the first seeing eye dog user of in Hong Kong and would like to discuss about organizing a seeing eye dog training centre when he returned to Hong Kong a few months later. From then on, we became friends and always talked IDD about the differences between today’s seeing eye dog services and those in the 70’s.

This reminded me of 30 years ago when I brought Winta back to Hong Kong. Winta was born and trained as a seeing eye dog in Australia. I went to Australia to adopt her and learn the skills of living with her. When I brought her to Hong Kong, the Australian trainer also came by. But because of the high costs, he could only stayed a week for the training. As Winta was the first seeing eye dog in Hong Kong, the public facilities were not ready for such. For example, all transportation except taxi needed a special prior approval before one could take a seeing eye dog on board. Yet many drivers might make things difficult. Many venues like banks, hospitals, supermarkets, restaurants, parks, etc. did not allow seeing eye dogs to enter. I managed to lobby the shop owners in my area to allow Winta to enter their shops which reflected the spirit of neighbourhood.

In the past Hong Kong did not have an internationally recognised seeing eye dog trainer to follow up my case. So after Winta died, seeing eye dog services disappeared in Hong Kong for 30 years. Now that Raymond, a qualified seeing eye dog trainer from New Zealand, volunteers to provide training of seeing eye dog in Hong Kong. Raymond and a few of us decide to organize a seeing eye dog centre with the following targets:

  • • All healthy VI are eligible to the services irrespective of their academic background;
  • • Extensively promote the services to the public and raise their acceptance and awareness of the need so that the seeing eye dog can maximize their functions;
  • • Provide training to local people so that all future supports can be provided locally.
About two years ago, Taiwan Guide Dog Association donated two Labrador puppies, Google and Iris to support Raymond’s move for locally trained seeing eye dogs. The puppies can easily adapt to the local environment. While Raymond leads the training part, I help in the assessment side. Now many restaurants and public venues allow seeing eye dogs to enter. Many people know their existence and the rule of “3 Don’ts and 1 Do”. I believe Google and Iris can serve the VIs soon.

Google, the First Locally Trained Seeing Eye Dog in Hong Kong

David Wong

Hello everybody, I am David and user of Google, the first locally trained seeing eye dog in Hong Kong. I have never been a dog owner before, and I only learnt about seeing eye dogs from others. However, after becoming a user, I started to learn more knowledge about them and also built-up a sense of mission. It has been 30 years since the recent re-introduction of seeing eye dogs in Hong Kong. I sincerely hope that it can become a locally based service. When I walk Google on the street, I always bring onewith me a deck of HKESD’s business cards. I will distribute them whenever I hear people mentioning “Seeing Eye Dogs”. By doing this, I hope to promote the knowledge of seeing eye dogs and the HKSEDS.

Three months after living with Google, I began to sense its affection. Google would walk faster and pull harder when my wife and I visit places that we have never before. I could feel his happiness and reactions through the harness. Google would lie beside me whenever I sit down. I think this would increase his sense of security. When we joined a 1-night stargazing camp last October, I noticed that Google was feeling unwell at night. It may be because it was spending a whole day playing. I cuddled him to let him sleep comfortably. (It was an exception: seeing eye dogs are normally not allowed to sleep with their user.) We have developed a relationship like father and son. Every time when he was praised by a passer-by, I felt like my son was praised. That is why sometimes I can’t help myself to give him more snacks, despite this breaches the trainers’ guidelines.

Now I am not used to go out without Google. This is because, without Google, I will need a cane and pay special attention to the environment. I could only walk step by step slowly by judging the environment with my ears. I cannot relax this way since all my attention is being focused on the road. Therefore, I choose not to go out unless I have to. But with Google, I can be more relaxed. All I need to do is to navigate and let him handle the road conditions. Now I always go out for a walk with Google. I gain more opportunities to talk with strangers. I discover that a lot of people in Hong Kong have a basic understanding of seeing eye dogs. They can immediately recognize Google is a seeing eye dog when they see his harness. May be I should thank the Japanese movies “Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog”, being shown years ago.

To sum up, the 3-month experience with Google were more positive than negative. I have met both passionate and impolite people. They could usually understand my situations once I explained to them. I hope seeing eye dog service will become more and more popular and bring benefits to more visually impaired users.

The Precious Gift --- Seeing Eye Dog Walker

Joe Lam

From the blessing of God, I’ve got the most precious gift in the Christmas of 2014 --- the Seeing Eye Dog Walker.

When my vision starts deteriorating, my vitality also decrease. One day, I fell down at Yuen Long Light Rail Station and my family start worrying about me after this incident.

After Walker appears in my life, he leads me avoid obstacles on the streets. When other pedestrians see Walker, they also help reminding me to be more careful. I feel so thankful about this.

Other than that, I am so happy that Walker also gives chance for other people to show their love. I can hear the voice from pedestrians who offering help to me, and they also let me have the seat on MTR or buses. Walker and I always get so much attention, people will talk about Walker, praising him about his obedience and cleverness. Though the conversation usually just last for a few minutes, but it shows the love and trust among people.

Every Seeing Eye Dog users should embrace this valuable chance. I believe that visually impaired will not stop our confidence and self-esteem, we are hoping for a better future in the hand with our Seeing Eye Dogs.

The Ambassador – Seeing Eye Dog Range

Walter

In 18 August 2014, I matched with the Seeing Eye Dog Range from HKSEDS, since than my life become much more brilliant.

I received a 28 days disciplined training with Range by HKSEDS. I learnt so much include travel on public transport, how to take care the dog and how to walk in the lead by a dog during this month.

With the assistance of Range, I have more confidence to face my problem of vision deteriorating. Range is the partner who leads my way, he helps me to walk safely in the city and catch all the meetings on time. As Range is trained locally, he is more confidence to walk in the busy environment in compare with me. With Range, I feel so warm as he is my ambassador.