Seventy-one-year-old Jim Kline says volunteering as a breeder caretaker has changed his life, making his four-legged friend the center of his home.
“Joseph is an exceptional dog, and the things he can do amazes me,” says Jim. “He can feel your emotions, he’s very attuned to people’s feelings. He can read situations. We go for walks, we call them death marches (laughs) — we walk about five to seven miles a day. [Joseph] is known throughout the neighborhood. He’s such a good boy. Joseph is the first male dog we’ve had. He’s devoted, he’s smart, he’s kind to everybody.”
The subject of Jim’s endless praise is five-year-old Joseph, an adult breeder dog for the Guide Dog Foundation, an organization that places guide and service dogs to provide increased independence and enhanced mobility to people who are blind, have low vision or have other disabilities. As a volunteer with the foundation since 2018, Jim’s service has opened up a world of new relationships and opportunities, something he says he never expected as a retiree.
“Volunteering gives me a purpose. I’m retired. I worked all my life. Now I have the time to keep active and be with animals, and of course, the ultimate goal is for the dogs to help the disabled. It’s a win-win situation. Not only is Joseph a breeder, he’s a goodwill ambassador for the Guide Dog Foundation. People stop me all the time and ask, ‘How’s Joseph?’ If they don’t see me with him, they’ll ask about him. I get so much comfort having him with me. He’s a service dog for me!”
In addition to his role as a breeder caretaker, Jim serves as a Level 1 kennel socializer, and most recently, a puppy socializer. It costs more than $50,000 for the foundation to breed, raise, train and place each assistance dog, but because of generous support from individuals, corporations, foundations and community organizations, people in need receive the dogs free of charge. Jim, a resident of Massapequa, New York, calls his volunteerism a privilege. His service is supported by his wife, Jane. The two care for Joseph, a black Labrador who has sired an astounding 74 puppies for the foundation.
“One of Joseph’s puppies has dual certification as a guide and service dog for a disabled veteran in Kentucky,” says Jim. “This dog is amazing. It’s so nice to see success stories. This vet [who served in] Afghanistan had a brain injury. When he came home his wife saw he needed [more support.] It makes such an impact on this person’s life. I went to the foundation for the animals, and my volunteerism just escalated. We’re part of a bigger picture to make a difference just by doing small things. Even as a senior, service keeps us active. We have a purpose. With Joseph, we feel responsible for another family member.”
Jim’s life and service are both guided by the Golden Rule, treating others as one wants to be treated. Jim even repairs leashes for the organization, saying if they ask him to do something and he’s able, he’ll get it done. According to Barrie Madasu, volunteer services manager for the Guide Dog Foundation, Jim’s dedication is having a growing impact on those who depend on service and guide dogs.
“When Jim is around, we know everything will get done safely and efficiently,” says Barrie. “When on campus, he’s helping, sharing and looking out for teammates, and then at home, he’s working with his breeder dog, Joseph. [Because] Joseph creates future guide and service dogs for blind people and veterans, [Jim] has an impact he doesn’t even get to see firsthand. It trickles down. He’s giving without even realizing his impact because he’s at the start of it, then the dogs go on to get raised and trained and placed. Without families like [Jim’s,] we’re not able to house the dogs in a warm, loving environment.”
Jim and his beloved Joseph will leave a legacy far beyond when their service ends, offering healing and help to many across the country in need of support. For Jim, volunteerism has been a rewarding adventure that offers hope to many.
“It’s never too late to volunteer for something. You never know how it’s going to impact you or other people. It makes me extraordinarily happy to know there are people all over the country who are benefitting from [Joseph’s] puppies. That’s his purpose, and his puppies are fulfilling his purpose. Sometimes I get to socialize his puppies, which is grandpa socializing his little grandpups. My life has been changed by Joseph and the organization.”
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