Blind going places as school opens for dogs

Hong Kong's first guide-dog training school opened in Ta Kwu Ling yesterday, aiming to train 50 dogs to help visually impaired people in the next three years.

Managed by the charity Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services, the school has four trainers and 10 dogs in training, and will provide free services to the visually impaired.

In its opening ceremony, the charity's chairwoman Mable Cheung Mei-yin said there are around 190,000 people with visual impairment in the SAR but only about 50 guide dogs in service.

"We hope the school can provide a quiet training environment free of disturbances to our guide dogs, as well as the trainers and guide dog users," she said, adding that facilities at the school are of international standards.

Training facilities include kennels with individual spaces for 10 dogs, outdoor meadows and swimming pools. The school has simulated traffic lights and part of a footbridge that were borrowed from the government to enable dogs to get familiar with real-life environments.

A monument is set up in the meadows in memory of Hong Kong's first guide dog, Google, that died in March.

The charity's founding chairman, Raymond Cheung Ka-wai, said the process of matching guide dogs to their users can take as long as six years.

A matching room in the school will allow them to familiarize themselves with each other.

"Body shapes, walking paces and postures will also be taken into our consideration when matching guide dogs and users," he said.

Cheung said guide dogs start receiving training when they are two years old and will retire at the age of 10, which is equivalent to a 53-year-old human.

He hopes the school can help promote the guide dog service in the city and enable the public to understand more about working dogs.

The training school covers an area of 24,500 square feet.

It was formerly the campus of Sam Wo Public School, which was suspended in 2006.

Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho said the school is one of the success stories under the bureau's HK$1 billion funding scheme, launched in 2019 to help NGOs pursue basic restoration works on vacant government sites for community services.

"I hope the school can help to train more professional trainers and guide dogs to become the right hands for the visually impaired," she said.

She said the scheme is involved in 23 projects at a cost of HK$460 million. Five of them, including the school, have been put into service, while six projects will be completed next year.