This article was submitted by Guiding Eyes for publication in the International Guide Dog Federation’s “Visionary Magazine.” You can read the full issue of Visionary here.
Tsang Kin Ping had a dream that blind and visually impaired Hong Kong residents could benefit from the extraordinary life changes a guide dog brings. His vision served as a catalyst for a global exchange of resources that resulted in two guide dogs arriving in Hong Kong last year.
More than thirty years had passed since guide dogs navigated the chaotic streets of downtown Hong Kong. At its busiest, more than 16,000 people travel through Sai Yeung Choi Street in Mongkok every hour. The lack of a local support system made previous efforts to place dogs unsuccessful.
In 2006, Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired began looking into the re-introduction of guide dogs to Hong Kong. A pilot project was conceived and Ebenezer partnered with the Hong Kong Society for the Blind in 2009. Ian Cox of Vision Australia provided advice and support from the beginning and acted as a consultant for the endeavor. Funding from the S K Yee Medical Foundation gave the plan a solid framework, and in January 2011, the Hong Kong Guide Dog Association (HKGDA) was founded and invited to partner in the project.
Ebenezer approached Guiding Eyes for the Blind in late 2011; we were selected due to the extensive training our dogs receive in urban environments. Our school agreed to participate in the pilot program by providing four dogs and residential training to students from Hong Kong. We welcomed our first two students, Tsang Kin Ping and Inti Fu Tai Fan, this summer, and they received Guiding Eyes dogs “Deanna” and “Nana” on July 4th – America’s Independence Day.
Tsang and Inti successfully completed our 26-day course and returned to Hong Kong for an additional week of training with Cox. Both handlers have now resumed their busy lifestyles with their Guiding Eyes dogs by their sides.
Inti is a successful telemarketer – ranked second in production for her entire company. She travels the world running marathons and knows that her parents will now worry much less for her safety.
As Vice-Chairman of HKGDA, Tsang’s main role is to educate the general public. While his dream of traveling with a guide dog has finally come to fruition, he still has much more to do to ensure the program’s future success. Guiding Eyes Deanna has already begun to alter perception. “Her outstanding behavior and excellent techniques give people a firsthand understanding of how well-trained guide dogs work,” Tsang says. “Deanna is continually winning public acceptance and support from the people of Hong Kong.”
The partnering organizations will support the training of two more guide dog teams and continue to provide support services to blind and visually impaired guide dog candidates. In the long term, HKGDA will look to hire qualified GDMIs or train personnel locally.
HKGDA’s motto, “love leads the way” now reverberates around the world. The pilot program has been an international labor of love for everyone involved and has heralded important progress for those who seek greater independence.