Volunteers at Guide Dogs of America | Tender Loving Canines (GDA|TLC) have a tremendous impact on people’s lives. From retirees to long-time supporters – even our very own graduates – our volunteers come from all walks of life! Meet Eugene Kim and his guide dog, Opal. This dynamic duo has recently begun volunteering at GDA|TLC as a way of giving back to a place that has given them so much. Eugene lives in La Crescenta, California, with his wife, Jane. His two daughters, ages 15 and 19, are his pride and joy, and he loves nothing more than spending time with them. “I used to drive the family around… I loved driving! I would take my girls camping, to Universal [Studios], and skiing in Mammoth!” Eugene explains.
He recalls, “It was the day after Christmas in 2019. I was driving home, and that’s when I noticed there was just something a little bit off with my right eye.” Initially, he thought he just needed a check-up. But Eugene quickly realized this was something more serious. “When it started happening in my left eye, I began to panic,” he says.
Over the next 3-4 weeks, Eugene’s sight rapidly deteriorated. The small pieces of blurred vision gradually became one giant blur. Struggling to get appointments during the Covid shutdown, Eugene was eventually diagnosed with Glaucoma — his life forever changed.
At the time, Eugene had a successful career as a designer at Fandango, where he led his own design team. “I would have never thought this would happen to me, especially in the middle of my life,” Eugene states. While his employers were highly supportive throughout his vision loss, providing him with accessible screens and keyboards, it was ultimately too much.
“It totally changed my life,” Eugene explains. Even little hobbies he enjoyed, such as going to the hardware store, became more challenging than leisurely. “I love the hardware store. I could spend half a day there just picking up random stuff!” he says with a smile as he reminisces.
Eugene first heard about our guide dog program through one of his wife’s patients, who volunteers at GDA|TLC. Once accepted into the program, Eugene couldn’t wait to take advantage of the opportunity. He recalls his initial experience in class, “For the first few days, we are training with an imaginary dog (JUNO).” A process that can be monotonous for students yearning to meet their exciting new partners. It isn’t until the third day of class that students are finally matched with their dogs.
“The trainers sit you down in your room, and you can hear them knock on the door as they introduce other students to their dogs… and I am one of the last doors,” he recalls as he waited anxiously. “And then she comes in, and you are just overjoyed!” he smiles wide, “This is reality, a living being who is going to guide me! My forever friend!” Opal, a Yellow Labrador retriever, has been with Eugene nearly 24/7 since. He remembers feeling speechless and delighted.
His experience with the trainers remains just as memorable. “I call them friends because they’ve helped me so much, personally and professionally.” Eugene continues, “I remember the first time I got to walk with her, and just feeling her lead me was an amazing experience because it wasn’t me shuffling anymore. It’s just automatic for her to go around obstacles… it’s such an incredible feeling!”
“Being able to take my regular routes [with Opal] was really incredible! It made me feel free. It made me feel confident,” he recollects with a smile. Before matching with Opal, Eugene struggled to ride the bus alone and find his seat. “With [Opal], it’s as if she’s a person with you- like having your friend with you, and it just makes things a little more comfortable,” he explains. Improving his mobility isn’t the only thing Opal has done for Eugene. She’s done something else as well.
“She’s helped me get over this feeling of shame that I had, maybe because I felt like a burden to society. Not working made me feel useless like I couldn’t contribute. Opal has shown me that isn’t true.” Petting her gently by his side, he says, “She depends on me, and I depend on her.”
Your generosity has brought life-changing transformations to individuals like Eugene.
Eugene is a retired designer who lives in La Crescenta, California with his wife, Jane. His two daughters, ages 15 and 19, are his pride and joy, and he loves nothing more than to spend time with them. He and Opal are now proud volunteers at GDA | TLC.