Dog was closer to me than my wife, he says after his seeing-eye canine dies
He saw the world through her gentle eyes.
Now, the light in those auburn eyes has faded. Those eyes have lost their lustre and finally their life.
And so the world of blind businessman Kua Cheng Hock, 58, is once again shrouded in darkness, his eyes clouded by tears.
"In the past nine years," said Mr Kua wistfully, "she was even closer to me than my wife."
He was talking about Kendra, his seeing-eye dog, who holds the distinction of being the first such dog in Singapore.
The labrador died from a stroke and a massive heart attack on Friday, just weeks before her retirement.
She was 11.
She had been with Mr Kua for the last nine years, constantly guiding him and looking out for him.
She was more than his pair of eyes. She was his caretaker, his protector, his constant companion, his "daughter".
Mr Kua was inspired to use a seeing-eye dog after he heard of how guide dog Roselle led visually-impaired sales manager Michael Hingson to safety from the 78th floor of New York's World Trade Centre after two passenger jets slammed into the buildings in the 2001 terror attack.
Mr Kua wrote and later went for training at the California-based American dog-training school, Guide Dogs for the Blind, before returning with Kendra in August 2005.
Kendra was a gift from the school. (See story on facing page.)
The two had been inseparable.
"You can call her my shadow, never leaving my side. She was always waiting for me, even outside the door whenever I was in the shower," he told The New Paper.
There were times when Kendra managed to keep Mr Kua from coming to harm. (See story above.)
"I guess she felt she was my protector and was wholly responsible for me," he said of his docile friend.
There were times when Mr Kua had to make short trips to Malaysia and could not take her along.
"So when my wife took her downstairs for toilet breaks, Kendra would refuse to go home and would drag her to the bus stop to wait for me to return," Mr Kua recalled.
But when it came to long-haul trips, Kendra always went with him, "to 15 countries in all", he said.
"Europe, United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia," Mr Kua said, smiling fondly.
"We went in and out of Australia so often that she was issued a year-long permit to allow her to do just that."
Her last trip was to California in June and July, when she visited Ms Lauren Williams, who had raised her when she was a puppy.
"It was a good trip. She spent time with her puppy-raiser family and even celebrated Lauren's grandmother's birthday.
"Perhaps it was her easy-going temperament that she was always welcomed on board flights.
"She never barked and would lie quietly under my seat until we reached our destination.
"The passengers and crew members loved her."
Only twice did the pair face rejection.
Once, in 2012, when Tiger Airways became the first Singapore-based airline to refuse Mr Kua's request to bring Kendra on board.
"Another time was when a passenger on board an SIA flight protested loudly when he found out we were seated close by."
The crew moved the complaining man and his two young daughters to the back of the plane.
With Kendra by his side, Mr Kua said he was more willing to explore each new town or country as he felt "very safe with her".
"If I travelled with only my white cane, I would go for walks only when I had to," he said.
"She's always concerned. Whenever I muttered under my breath, she would stop and use her muzzle to knock against my knees to find out what was the problem."
But Kendra was more than loyal. She was also playful, friendly and greedy, traits typical of labradors.
"She was playful and would love to steal socks so that we would chase her.
"She also has a stubborn side and when she didn't want to move forward, she would stick her paws into the ground.
Mr Kua said Kendra's death was "too sudden".
"She was still very healthy. But on Friday morning, she was lying down all the time and wasn't her usual self."
On the way to the vet, she had breathing difficulties and weakness in her hind limbs. She suffered a heart attack at the clinic and attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. She died at about 12.30pm.
"The vet and her assistant, who had been taking care of Kendra since she arrived in 2005, were in tears and inconsolable," Mr Kua added.
He said he and his wife had hoped to give Kendra a nice retirement and had already made arrangements with the Housing Board to have two dogs -Kendra and the new guide dog - in their five-room flat in Marine Vista.
"But I guess she would've been unhappy anyway. We would have to leave her at home and take the new dog out," he said, sadly.
The Kuas collected Kendra's ashes on Wednesday and will be placing them at home.
"She was family. Now she is home."
In the past nine years, she was even closer to me than my wife.
- Mr Kua Cheng Hock
She kept me from falling over the edge
PROTECTOR: Mr Kua Cheng Hock and his seeing-eye dog Kendra taking the MRT. - ST FILE PIC
Like all guide dogs, Kendra was taught intelligent disobedience to help prevent accidents, at the guide-dog training school in California.
"During her training, they used to take Kendra to the Bay Area Rapid Transit, where there were platforms. She was taught to stop before the edge and use her body to stop the handler from moving forward," Mr Kua Cheng Hock said.
Several times, the labrador remembered her training when the pair travelled by MRT.
"Before there were safety barriers, Kendra would use her body to block me from advancing towards the end of the platform at the stations," Mr Kua recalled.
"Then there was the time when we were walking along the jetty at Marine Parade. We came to the edge and once again she used her body to indicate we were at the edge before turning and walking back."
Kendra was also very wary of car exhaust.
"Walking along parked cars, whenever she smelled exhaust coming from the back of the car, she would not advance, worried that the car would move without the driver having seen us," Mr Kua said.
"She would dig her heels into the ground. It happened several times."
Kendra made history in S'pore
Businessman Kua Cheng Hock has been lobbying for guide dogs to be allowed here since the 1980s.
Back then, he discovered quickly that a dog was more a hindrance than a help only because the rules were simply not in his favour.
Guide dogs were barred from hospitals, eateries and public transport.
Then, in 2005, he learnt that guide dog Roselle led visually-impaired sales manager Michael Hingson to safety from his office on the 78th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers in the US when a passenger jet slammed into the building in 2001.
Mr Kua wrote to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a California-based American dog-training school where Mr Hingson now works, asking to be trained at the school. He returned with Kendra in August that year.
When Mr Kua returned, he approached Members of Parliament and government agencies and helped open the door for other guide dogs.
Six years later, in 2011, Esme, Singapore's second guide dog, arrived from Australia and the year after, Seretta, a two-year-old labrador, also from Australia, became the third.
Last year, the fourth dog, a three-year-old labrador, arrived from Japan.