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Woman gets guide dog after 7 years of trying

SINGAPORE — For seven years, Ms Lim Lee Lee, who is visually impaired from retinopathy of prematurity, tried to get a guide dog so that she could be more independent.

SINGAPORE — For seven years, Ms Lim Lee Lee, who is visually impaired from retinopathy of prematurity, tried to get a guide dog so that she could be more independent.

“As a child, I read this book called Emma and I, which talked about a British lady who lost her sight and how a guide dog gave her the independence she always wanted. That book inspired me,” said the 46-year-old guide and trainer at social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark.

But despite being slated three times to travel to the United States and Australia in those years to meet potential guide dogs lined up for her by the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind, the plans fell through eventually. To qualify for a guide dog, potential blind handlers have to go through assessments to test their orientation and mobility skills, such as their ability to read traffic conditions, for instance.

The assessments were not the only hurdle. Guide dogs were also previously not on the “approved dog list” for those living in HDB flats, although National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced earlier this month that he has asked for the policy to be relaxed. He also simplified the process for the visually-impaired to apply for licences to keep guide dogs, noting that these animals can be a life saver for the master.

Mr Khaw’s announcement also came on the heels of Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s calls for clearer rules on guide dogs last year.

Last year, Ms Lim finally got her guide dog from Eye-mate, a Japanese guide dog school, after being referred to it by Mr Kua Cheng Hock, who was the first to own a guide dog here.

But she recounted some of the other difficulties the visually impaired may face in getting a guide dog.

After being assessed to be suitable to handle a guide dog, Ms Lim had to fly to Japan in September to train for one month with a Labrador Retriever named Nice. But communicating with her Japanese instructor at Eye-mate proved to be challenging, since she was the non-profit organisation’s first international student.

Still, they found a way to overcome the language barrier and Ms Lim and Nice quickly became one of the trainees with the speediest progressions. Nice even surprised Ms Lim on one occasion by refusing to follow her usual route and found another way to save her 20 minutes.

Describing what it felt like when she first took Nice for a walk in Japan, Ms Lim said: “The first day with her was very liberating ... I felt as though I was flying.”

Since Nice accompanied her back to Singapore — she is only one of five here — she has had to adjust to the climate, as well as adapt to the different smells on the streets here. Ms Lim said she can now move around much faster with Nice by her side and she also hardly bumps into people or objects anymore.

 

Correction: The original article stated that potential guide dogs were lined up for Ms Lim by the Singapore Guide Dog Association. This is incorrect. The potential guide dogs were lined up for Ms Lim by the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind. We are sorry for the error. This article was edited at 1.55pm on Feb 10.

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