Monday 19 January 2015

Call to be guide-dog friendly nation

Year-long campaign aims to raise acceptance in Singapore of working animals which aid blind people
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 18 Jan 2015

Jordie, an 18-month-old male golden Labrador from Australia, is being trained for a big role - keeping its eventual owner safe. And it is special for another reason. Jordie, which will graduate in six months, is the first guide dog to get local training in how to help the blind.

Such animals usually undergo the 18- to 24-month training overseas, typically in Australia, but the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind (GDAB) yesterday announced that it will start training more guide dogs locally in a bid to lower costs and raise the number of such animals here from the current five.

At the same time, GDAB hopes to increase their acceptance by the public with a year-long campaign for a "guide-dog friendly nation".

Those with guide dogs find it difficult taking them into taxis and restaurants. Last November, counsellor Cassandra Chiu, 35, who became blind at eight, and her guide dog Esme were not allowed to board a taxi. The driver had driven off while she was standing near the vehicle, causing her to fall and injure her knee.

Mr Alvin Ng, 49, has encountered similar experiences with his guide dog Seretta. Just a few days ago, he was denied entry into the restaurant Marche at 313@Somerset. Said Mr Ng, who has been blind for about 17 years and is unemployed: "The campaign is good as it creates awareness, and debunks myths - such as the dog is smelly or that it will bite people."

These initiatives were launched yesterday during the Run for Light fitness event, which raised around $20,700 for the association.

Jordie, which came from Australia, is completing the last six months of its training under a part-time instructor here. It is learning how to guide a person across a busy road and alert its owner to potential dangers, such as overhanging tree limbs, kerbs or stairs. The new local instructor whom GDAB hopes to hire will be sent to Australia to undergo a two-year course.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who was guest of honour at yesterday's event, said: "Besides the growing awareness of working guide dogs in Singapore, acceptance of such exemplary bona fide working animals is vital for these new programmes to be successful.

"I call on my fellow Singaporeans to embrace this concept and become a guide-dog friendly nation in conjunction with our 50th birthday."

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