Easier now for guide dogs to live with owners in HDB flats: Khaw Boon Wan

Mr Khaw Boon Wan during an interview on Nov 8, 2010. It is now easier for guide dogs to live in their owners' Housing Board flats, said Mr Khaw in a blog post on Saturday.-- ST FILE PHOTO: JOYCE FANG
Mr Khaw Boon Wan during an interview on Nov 8, 2010. It is now easier for guide dogs to live in their owners' Housing Board flats, said Mr Khaw in a blog post on Saturday.-- ST FILE PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

It is now easier for guide dogs to live in their owners' Housing Board flats, said Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post on Saturday.

Previously, visually impaired residents had to appeal to HDB for exceptions, then apply to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) for a licence. With the streamlined process, they need only approach the AVA for licensing now.

Mr Khaw's announcement comes on the heels of Law Minister K. Shanmugam's call for clearer rules on guide dogs last year. In a dinner organised by the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind, Mr Shanmugam asked for a "compassionate, proactive inter-agency approach" in addressing problems faced by the visually impaired.

Although there are about 4,000 visually impaired people in Singapore there are just three guide dogs here - two of which live with their owners in HDB flats.

Mr Khaw referred to two other agencies under the Ministry of National Development. The National Parks Board, he said, is "guide dog friendly," while the Building Construction Authority released a guide last year for professionals to design spaces suitable for a guide dog and its owner.

The minister said Singapore is not as guide dog- friendly as other cities, which allow them in restaurants, because they are not as common here.

Citing the report of a guide dog that protected its owner who had fallen onto a subway track in New York, Mr Khaw said: "To the visually handicapped, a trained guide dog is more than a life partner. Sometimes, it is a lifesaver."

Psychotherapist and guide dog owner Cassandra Chiu said it is "welcoming that government agencies are attempting to do more for the blind and their guide dogs."

However, more must be done to ensure the authenticity of guide dogs before they are imported and for the welfare of guide dogs which are retired from duty, she added. "Any misbehaviour of a supposed guide dog at HDB estates will erode the painstakingly gained tolerance at the moment."