Access to guide dogs improving

Labrador guide dog Esme helps its handler, Ms Cassandra Chiu, navigate the path around a construction site near King’s Road after church service.
Labrador guide dog Esme helps its handler, Ms Cassandra Chiu, navigate the path around a construction site near King’s Road after church service. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

We refer to Ms Cassandra Chiu's thought-provoking article (Why Singapore has only eight guide dogs, April 23).

In 2012, Guide Dogs Singapore (GDS) - then called Guide Dogs Association of the Blind - supported and funded the formation of Singapore's first guide dog team, comprising Ms Chiu (the handler) and Esme (the guide dog).

Esme was bred and schooled by our partners in Australia, a rigorous journey that took about two years.

Ms Chiu was then flown over to be trained with Esme for about a month, and together they returned to Singapore for further orientation.

This expensive process was strenuously repeated for almost all our subsequent pairings.

It is a reflection of the high stakes required for the formation of a successful team, the resilience that is demanded of the handlers, and the importance of our donors, who sustain these hefty but worthy investments.

We appreciate and respect Ms Chiu's personal decision to crowdfund her second dog, as it makes available our resources to other potential handlers.

We are also happy to report that costs have, in fact, come down since the early pairings, with further reductions expected.

Aided by the Care and Share Grant, GDS has sponsored a Singaporean to train in Australia - our first local Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. After she returns next year, key parts of the training and pairing process can be done here. This will substantially lower the cost and complexity of the process, as well as improve the accessibility and sustainability of our services.

GDS believes that with every new guide dog team and white cane user, Singapore moves one step closer to becoming a society that is even more inclusive, gracious and empowered to enable the visually impaired to achieve their full potential.

Wong Hon Tym (Dr)

Chairman, Guide Dogs Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2019, with the headline 'Access to guide dogs improving'. Print Edition | Subscribe