Last month, Rally and Nera, two-year old Labradors, arrived at Hong Kong after spending 26 days in the United States training to become guide dogs. The dogs will aid Andy Chan Kam-chau and Trada Ip Man-yi, two visually impaired Hong Kong residents who lost their sight to glaucoma.
Rally and Nera are part of a HK$719,000 pilot project. This is funded by the Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired and the Hong Kong Society for the Blind. To this day, six dogs have been trained and relocated to Hong Kong to aid residents in need.
Chan, 40-years-old, previously used a cane to maneuver the streets of Hong Kong, but many times he found it best to walk on the side of the street because he would accidentally hit people with his cane.
“Sometimes people would be really unfriendly when you hit them,” said Chan.
Nera is now Chan’s guide dog. Walking with her has brought a new sense of freedom and fun to his life.
“For me, it’s the speed that I haven’t experienced before,” said Chan. “Nera walks very fast and can take me walking between people. There’s more fun in going out.”
Ip says she is more confident in going out in public now.
“I needed my friends to pick me up if I was going to places I was not familiar with,” said Ip. “Now I can be more independent.”
Nera and Rally where assigned to Chan and Ip early in the guide dog training process. However, it took some getting used to for Chan and Nera to work cohesively.
“At first she moped in the room,” said Chan. “I tried to act loving and give her treats, but she was quite cold to me. It just takes time. You have to be gentle and respect her.”
Both dogs are adapting well to life in Hong Kong. Every three months the dogs will be checked by Australian guide dog expert Ian Cox to monitor their condition and performance.
The Guide Dogs Association is currently working with the local government to provide 30 more visually impaired residents with guide dogs within the next 5 years.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on Apr 24, 2013 .