First to get a guide dog in S'pore

Mr Kua Cheng Hock, who was born blind, with Kendra, a labrador retriever. He succeeded in gaining acceptance for guide dogs in Singapore only on his second try. He repatriated his first dog after just two years.
Mr Kua Cheng Hock, who was born blind, with Kendra, a labrador retriever. He succeeded in gaining acceptance for guide dogs in Singapore only on his second try. He repatriated his first dog after just two years.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Golden retriever Stacey - Singapore's first guide dog for the blind - arrived here in 1982 but was sent back to Australia after just two years.

She had been a gift to Mr Kua Cheng Hock, who was born blind, from a guide dog centre in Australia. He had travelled to various countries to learn more about guide dogs as it was his dream to have one. But the reception here was cold.

Stacey was barred from buses and laws at the time prohibited animals from entering places which handle food.

"She could guide me only around the neighbourhood and that's a meaningless waste of her skills, so I released her to be paired with another blind person in Australia," said Mr Kua, 60.

 

But he did not give up. In the 2000s, he sensed that the authorities and community were more open to accepting guide dogs.

In 2004, he sought the help of Mr Michael Hingson, the blind manager whose guide dog Roselle led him to safety from the 78th floor of one of the burning World Trade Center towers during the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr Hingson linked him up with a guide dog organisation in California which gave him Kendra, a labrador retriever.

This time, Mr Kua worked with various agencies, from the National Environment Agency to bus companies, to address any problems that may arise with Kendra's arrival.

In 2005, 23 years after Stacey, Kendra became Singapore's second guide dog for the blind.

The Environment Public Health Act was amended later that year to allow guide dogs into restaurants and food centres.

 

Mr Kua founded the Guide Dogs Association the following year to help others achieve greater independence by being paired with guide dogs.

Today, there are about six guide dogs here.

Mr Kua is believed to be the most well-travelled blind Singaporean. His former work as president of the World Blind Union Asia-Pacific and council member of the World Blind Union took him to more than 40 countries.

Mr Kua, who has also worked as a teacher, insurance agent and businessman, said: "I am glad I persevered with the guide dog and did not take no for an answer.

"Ever since I read a Braille book in my school library about a blind woman and her guide dog, it was my dream, however impossible it seemed, to have them in Singapore for the blind."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline 'First to get a guide dog in S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe