On a mission to help the blind

Chan attending a get together with friends at the KL Hilton hotel.
PHOTO: On a mission to help the blind

PETALING JAYA - All his life, Stevens Chan has never owned a dog or gone anywhere near one.

As he was not a dog lover and fearful of them, Chan, 52, never dreamed of being near one until he recently acquired his first guide dog Lashawn.

"My fear of dogs has vanished since I acquired Lashawn from the China Working Dogs Association in Nanjing," said Chan, who lost his eyesight to glaucoma when he was 45.

He said he and Lashawn, a Labrador, had bonded well and were inseparable now.

"Once I put on his harness and uniform, Lashawn knows he is on duty and carries out his responsibility as my canine guide diligently."

According to him, Lashawn knows that he is off duty and can take a rest when the uniform and harness are removed.

"He does not go far but will come and lie at my feet," said Chan, adding that he talked and played a lot with Lashawn when the dog was off duty.

Chan, who is the founder and chief executive officer of the Malaysian chapter of social business enterprise Dialogue in the Dark, said Lashawn came from a long line of guide dogs trained to serve the visually impaired.

Dialogue in the Dark is an organisation whereby the visually impaired are trained to conduct workshops for the sighted in corporate training and team building.

Chan said he decided to get a guide dog after meeting a trainer from China, who had a guide dog with her, at a training workshop two years ago.

"She connected us to the China Working Dogs Association and it took me two years to raise the funds to bring the first dog into Malaysia," said Chan.

He said his organisation would be working towards raising some RM500,000 (S$191,640) to bring in a total of five trained guide dogs into the country in stages. The ultimate plan would be to start a guide dog training school in Malaysia, said Chan.

He said a friend had met the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) unofficially and was informed that the Islamic authority had no problem with Muslims owning guide dogs.

However, Chan said he was aware there were many challenges ahead that needed to be addressed and tackled before the visually impaired could move around freely with their guide dogs here.

"We will be speaking with the relevant authorities to sort things out," he said.