S'pore 'more open' to seeing-eye dogs

PHOTO: S'pore 'more open' to seeing-eye dogs

Gentle canines who act as eyes for Singapore's blind men and women have not always been welcome in the country's restaurants, public transport and other places.

But Singapore has become much more accepting of the guide dogs over the years, said several blind people at an informal gathering yesterday to commemorate some of the dogs and raise awareness about them.

Mr Kua Cheng Hock, whose seeing-eye dog Kendra was the first in Singapore when it arrived in 2005, said they frequently faced rejection from restaurants and other places in the early days.

"She came before the law was changed," said the 59-year-old founder of the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind, referring to the amendment of the Environment Public Health Act in 2006 to allow the dogs into restaurants and food centres.

Operators of food establishments can decide whether or not to allow guide dogs on their premises.

"In the beginning, out of every 100 places we went to, 40 to 50 would immediately turn us away," Mr Kua said.

"Now, it's just maybe one in every 50 places."

Kendra, a labrador which was just three years old when it arrived in Singapore, died in August of a stroke and massive heart attack, just weeks before its retirement. The dog was 11.

Mr Kua is waiting for a replacement from Guide Dogs for the Blind, a California-based American dog-training school which had also given Kendra to him for free. He said there are now five guide dogs in Singapore.

One of them is Nice, a Japan-bred labrador retriever whose first anniversary in Singapore was celebrated at yesterday's event.

Her owner, 46-year-old freelance writer and motivational speaker Lim Lee Lee, said she cried when she first received Nice from EyeMate, a Japanese non-profit organisation in Tokyo that provides free guide dogs to Japanese people.

Ms Lim had tried for seven years to get a guide dog.

"I never thought it would happen," she said yesterday.

Both Mr Kua and Ms Lim spoke fondly of their guide dogs. Mr Kua, a businessman, said he and Kendra were inseparable.

The dog literally kept him from the edge, at both train platforms and the Marine Parade jetty where they took their walks.

Yesterday, Nice also stuck close to Ms Lim, who showered the dog with affection.

"With her, I can trust her to take me to the places I need to go."

This article was first published on Oct 6, 2014.
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