Welcome to Dixie Land Guide Dog Users Online, and Top Dog-2019!

We Dixie Land Guide Dog Users are the South Carolina affiliate of Guide Dog Users, Inc. Our tails are wagging in anticipation of Top Dog-2019! Our friends at Georgia Guide Dog Users and Guide Dog Users of Florida are joining with us to bring the Southeast Regional Top Dog Workshops back home to Charleston, SC! Scroll down for more information, to learn more about us and find out how you, too, can join the team!

Contact the Dixie Land Guide Team!

Contact the Dixie Land Guide Team!
Dixie Land GDU, Inc., 1608 Acacia St., Charleston, SC 29407 (843) 571-0737

Dixie Land Guide Dog Users

We provide education for the sighted community and peer mentoring with advocacy for the blindness community (guide dog, cane and sighted guide users alike), while promoting one community at large.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Magic of Top Dog.

Picture of baby Jessie.

The kennel was extremely big and unbelievably quiet.  All of the older pups were curled up safely in their beds dreaming of breakfast.   They'd had a very busy day learning how to be guide dogs and they were understandably tired.

The smaller pups were asleep next door.  They, too were tired but for other reasons.  They'd had the arduous task of running and romping and playing all day-with, of course the frequent licks of appreciation they'd planted on those human volunteers.  There was an occasional sound of muffled barks or dancing paws as they relived that day's activities in their sleep.  The hour was late and morning would be there soon.  Every little pup in that kennel was taking advantage of a much needed rest…except for that certain little yellow fellow with those fetching, big eyes and that adorable smile whenever anyone approached him.  All one had to do was to simply call his name and snap their fingers and Jessie's long, lean tail would immediately begin to thump and he'd begin to bounce from one side to another.

Jessie couldn't sleep that night.  He was just too excited.  He'd overheard one of the trainers talking about teaching them to be guide dogs and to be able to travel extensively with their new handlers.  He wasn't sure exactly where "extensively" was, but he surely liked the idea of going there one day!  Immediately Jessie's nose began to twitch and his tail started thumping the cool concrete kennel floor.

All of a sudden, from over in the far corner Jessie thought he saw some sort of figure appear.  He needed to go investigate what this was before the others awoke.  Cautiously Jessie sort of sidled up to the fog-like presence when the form began to materialize and he found himself nose to nose with a beautiful Labrador retriever donning some sort of special halo-like head dress and sporting a shining long wand.

"Ah…who…who are you?"  Jessie's curiosity was about to get the best of him.

"Hello, little Jessie," the figure replied. "I'm your fairy Guide Mother.  My name is One der ful, but you can call me 'One'.  

"Why are you here, Miss Fairy Guide Mother, One?"

"Well, little fellow, you summoned me with the double twitch of your nose and the thump, thump, thump of your tail.   You seemed to have stumbled upon the secret code and now I must grant you a wish.  So, tell me little Jessie, what would you like your fairy Guide Mother to do for you tonight?"

"Well…Miss Fairy Guide Mother One", I overheard the trainers talking about the older guys becoming well-behaved, professionally trained guide dogs and I've decided that's what I want to be.  I promise to be really, really good; to do exactly what they say and work very hard.  Can you make me a guide dog?"

"Oh, Jessie!  You silly pup!  Of course, I can make you a guide dog and if you work really, really hard like you said, you can be one of the best guide dogs ever!"

"Oh, Miss Fairy Guide Mother One, do you think I'll be able to travel to "Extensively" someday?  Maybe even get to go to that heavenly place I've heard so many of the big guys talking about called, "Top Dog"?"

"Not only will you get to go to Top Dog, Jessie, you'll be part of the inspiration for making Top Dog bigger and better!  Pups and peeps from all over the country and beyond will recognize you and you'll even take part in one of the most important events there, called "The Blessing".  You'll help your human mom, her friends and yours in planning, preparing and even presenting several Top Dogs, especially when it comes time to honor those newly retired guides and the 2 and 4 legged friends that have crossed 'Rainbow Bridge'  All who will have ever attended Top Dog-Charleston, '19 will know your name, little Jessie!"

"Oh, Miss Fairy Guide Mother One, I can hardly stand the excitement!  Will my person love and care for me like my puppy raiser folks?"

"No, little Jessie.  She'll love you even more.  You two will work together so well and so long that you'll become part of each other!"

"Will she let me hold her and sit on her lap, Miss Fairy Guide Mother One?'"

"Oh, yes, little Jessie!  She will always praise you while you're guiding her safely and she'll absolutely beam with happiness each time you sit in her lap.  You two will work together for a long, long time and you'll always-always take very good care of each other!   Her heart will open up to you the very first time she touches your head and her love for you will grow stronger with each day's passing.  You will soon find that you two were a match made in heaven and a true blessing for one another and the world! She will tell folks that you were sent to her from God, himself." 

"Oh, Miss Fairy Guide Mother, I am so excited!  Please tell me more about Top Dog-'19 and all I can expect when I get there."

"It's getting late, little Jessie, and you have lots to do tomorrow if you're going to be a guide dog.  However, I can tell you that you will meet lots and lots of new friends there…like, Copper and Astro and Alexa and you will see some of your old buddies, like Houston and Fonzie and Hopps!  Lots of people will be there from lots of guide dog schools.  In fact, there will be a workshop dedicated to the guide dog schools' updates and how they train their handlers to successfully work such traffic hazards as roundabouts and islands.   You will truly share your mom's emotions as she assists in the Blessing and  when those puppyraisers begin sharing their experiences raising their charges your little tail will almost wag off your bottom!  You'll feel like your little heart will burst with pride when your very own vet begins to talk and answer questions."

"Will there be lots for us guide dogs to do there, Miss Fairy Guide Mother, One?"

"Silly boy!  You'll have your little paws full taking care of your handlers!  Remember, little Jessie, they won't be able to see and they'll need you to guide them."

"Will there be lots of food there, too?"

"Oh, yes!  Unfortunately, though, you'll only be able to enjoy the aromas, though.  You'll smell that delicious baked spaghetti the first night and your little nose will wiggle almost off your muzzle when you get a whiff of that scrump-ta-dee-li-shus fried chicken, red rice and sausage; green beans and home-made macaroni and cheese on Opening Night!  Saturday evening's aromas of Frogmore Stew and Barbecue will tantalize your olfactory nerve beyond your imagination. You'll even be tempted by the delectable scents of those box lunches served Friday and Saturday, but, because you'll be such a great guide and good boy for your mom, you won't even attempt a taste of any of it."

"Gosh, Miss Fairy Guide Mother, one, it all sounds so wonderful!  I can hardly wait!  Tell me again when and where Top Dog-Charleston, '19 will be held."

"Well, little man, it sounds like a long time away but it really isn't. It'll be here before you know it,  January 18-20, 2019 at the Comfort Suites West of the Ashley, Charleston, SC! So, little man, it's not too early to start preparing! I'll be looking forward to seeing you and all your old and new friends there!"

Make your plans to meet Jessie and his friends at Top Dog-Charleston, January 18-20, 2019, Comfort Suites West of the Ashley, 2080 Savannah Hwy., Charleston, SC 29407 (843) 769-9850. Be sure to mention that you're attending Top Dog in order to take advantage of that special nightly rate of $89.95! We look forward to seeing you there! Stay tuned for more details!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Announcing Top Dog-2019!

Audrey and guide Jessie

From our President, Audrey Gunter...

"Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning."  Says the writer of the song.  As a native bred and born Charlestonian, or "Geechie" as we are called, there are no prettier words or more meaningful tune .

I can remember as a young'un from the downtown projects awakening every Sunday morning to the melodious announcements of those hard working paper carriers trying to make a few pennies by selling their newspapers, "Sunday Morning News and Courier-get your paper now before the paper boy goes!"

On those rare delightful days that Mother didn't have to go to work, she'd lure us out of bed with the savory aroma of sausage and gravy or that unmistakable tantalizing smell of thick bacon sizzling in that big old cast iron frying pan and her special cat head biscuits baking in the oven.

Even in some of our typically warm winters, we could hear those red birds and Carolina wrens proudly chirping their sweet, Southern songs.  Later that older than dirt gentleman would announce his arrival to our neighborhood while identifying those scrumptious, fresh vegetables piled high up on that ancient wooden, green hand-made cart he crafted from some  found planks and antique metal wheels.  If I close my eyes and listen really hard, deep within the recesses of my mind's ears I can hear his raspy voice crying out, "Veg-e-tables!  Veg-e-tables!  I got fresh greens!  I got sweet potatoes!  I got dem good ol' sweet on-yons!"

Those sweet southern selections of sentimental songs will forever be inside my head and heart.  Even today I can smell the nearby ocean and feel the salty breeze as it wafts inland towards our home.  Somewhere in the distance rings some of the many church bells, announcing the hours or their portions.  Our neighbors always greet us with a genuine, strongly Gullah-accented, "'morning, ma'am! Y'all be careful on that road, now!"  

Sometimes, on those very special days God wants to reward us with a true southern treat, we can hear the animated choir of the nearby AME church clapping their hands as they proudly confess their faith and love through their lyrical spiritual hymns.

Charleston is, indeed, filled with exclusive sights and extraordinary  sounds touting heart-felt honest emotions!  Strangers proclaim they can feel our love the moment they arrive to our "Holy City by the Sea!"

Some of you--several hundred actually--have visited my beloved historic city and have witnessed some or all of the above.  You have heard the statistics that Charleston is the "friendliest city in the country" and you truly understand why. 

For those who have yet to encounter the Charleston experience, let me be the first to invite you to our upcoming  Southeast Regional Top Dog Workshop, to be held back here January 17-20, 2019.  For that matter, I do hope those of you who have visited us for previous "Top Dogs" will plan to once again come back home!

This will be our 10th "Top Dog" event and we are delighted that the kind folks of Georgia Guide Dog Users and Guide Dog Users of Florida have agreed to let Dixie Land bring it back home, to its roots.  So, this is number 10 and it's coming home again!  Woohoo! 

Of course, ours will be a collaborated effort between the 3 affiliates, chocked full of fun, food, fellowship, and, of course lots and lots of furries!

We're looking forward to hearing those inviting, familiar ;melodic voices; wrapping our lips around some of that good, ol' fashion lowcountry cuisine we're so famous for; honoring those who are so dear to us and remembering those who have retired or passed on at "The Blessing";  catching up with the latest trending about blindness and guide dogs; strolling through our vast exhibit halls; enjoying a snack and/or beverage in our jam-packed Hospitality Suite; buying a couple of "braffle" tickets and, of course, checking out all the great goodies we got in our registration bags!  Quite naturally, we'll hear from lots of the "important" guide dog schools and there will be plenty of tissue available when we hear those heart-felt, emotion-filled personal puppy stories from lots of our puppy raisers. In other words, we can hardly wait to see YOU again!

We're in the process of "sharpening our pencils" to insure you get every cent of your money's worth and will bring you more details as they become available.  For right now, though, we  can share the dates and location.  You'll need to call the hotel directly to secure your reservations.

Dates:  January 17 through January 20, 2019
Hotel: Comfort Suites West of the Ashley
            2080 Savannah Hwy. Charleston, SC 29407
             843 769 9850

The management and staff are elated that we are returning "home" and are looking forward to working with us once again.  In fact, Miss Charleen and Miss Angela both said to give you all their love!

All of their  suites come furnished with sofa beds, microwaves and refrigerators. Don't forget to pack your gym  clothes and swimsuits 'cause there's a heated, indoor pool and a stocked exercise room on the first floor. The management is  offering us the incredible nightly rate of only $89.95 plus tax and that rate will be good from Monday, January 14 through Monday, January 21, 2019, but we have to call that hotel directly and say that we're with Top Dog to take advantage of that special nightly rate. 

So please start pinching your pennies and wadding your Washingtons!  Plan to make the Charleston Scene in 2019!  We really want to see you there.   It just wouldn't be "Top Dog" without you. 

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to call me from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST.  I'm always delighted to talk with you.


Audrey & Jessie 843 571 0737

Friday, January 26, 2018

"Paws 4" A Look Back at 2017.

Hi y'all! Our tails are wagging with excitement as we "paws 4" a look back at our 2017!

Guide Dog Users of Florida hosted Top Dog-2017 in Orlando. The South Carolina affiliate members of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users provided administrative and promotional assistance as needed in preparation for this event. Just a few short months later, we were  collaborating on promotional writing for the National convention of Guide Dog Users, Inc., introducing the imaginary antics of those renowned, "rovering reporters, Fred Floppears and Colleen Curleytail."

Audrey blessing Andrea and her guide

At Top Dog Orlando, Dixie Landers were asked to participate in "The Blessing of the Guides," one of the highlights of Top Dog since that first workshop was held in 2006. Several of our Dixie Land members and their guides caught the early train to Orlando, FL for the weekend's convention. As our President Audrey Gunter assisted with "The Blessing,"  she was reminded of just how much her fellow blind handlers need the opportunity to celebrate the lives of their guide dogs. The majority of guide dog users are on a limited income. When a guide dog retires and it is time for the handler to receive a new dog, most cannot keep their previous guide with them. There is a desperate need for blessing and closure among the worldwide community of guide dog users.

"The Blessing of the Guides" at Top Dog inspired   us to produce an audio church service.  The service, titled simply "The Blessing" would speak to the hearts of guide dog users, past, present and future guide dogs, and all who love them. "The Blessing" was delivered to an international audience via the Internet. For those who do not have the Internet, CD copies have been made available upon request. We've received responses from guide dog users throughout the US and Canada, and prayer requests came in from around the globe in remembrance of countless faithful guides who have crossed over "Rainbow Bridge." This presentation was highlighted on the Email lists of the national organization, Guide Dog Users, Inc., and was also featured on the Internet radio program, "Spotlight On Assistance Dogs." We have been asked to consider producing "The Blessing" on a regular basis. For a link to "The Blessing" and a copy of the show notes, just send an Email to dixielandguides@gmail.com with "The Blessing" in the subject line.

Gathering of the Friends of Bartimaeus

The year 2017 marked the five-year anniversary of the Friends of Bartimaeus Christian Outreach for the Blind here in Charleston. This outreach is hosted by Calvary Lutheran Church and is one of over fifty of its kind throughout the United States. Friends of Bartimaeus offers a monthly gathering, usually on the last Friday of the month. People who are blind come from all around the Charleston metro area to enjoy a nutritious, delicious hot meal, devotionals, music and fellowship in a safe, non-threatening environment. At the end of each meeting, guests in need are even given a bag of groceries to take home. As  we are among the founders of this ministry, it is always a blessing for us to assist with music, leadership and prayer support for the people of all ages and their families who are touched by this outreach. Last February, we even assisted with catering and leading the event while our regular sighted cooks were out of the country on a mission trip.

Laurel standing on the deck of the Spirit of Carolina tall ship.

In the spring, the tall ships came to Charleston. One of our officers, Laurel, enjoyed an afternoon cruise experience on the Spirit of Carolina. This ship is one of several replicas of those which actually sailed in the 1800's. Laurel even got to help hoist the sails! Our thanks to Laurel for her enthusiasm for representing the blindness community in an environment considered not to be accessible by many people with disabilities.

Gathered at the Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theater.

As part of our "Keeping Families Focused" initiative, we enjoyed an outing to the Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theater here in Charleston for Dixie Land Members and friends. The spontaneous, interactive format of Black Fedora provided a wonderful opportunity for us to focus on our friendship. The evening was jam packed with twisted plots and a lot of laughter. A special thanks to the Black Fedora management and staff for making us and our guides feel so welcome!

Audrey, Laurel and Kimberly presenting for day campers at BARK Camp

As part of our "Paws 2 Educate" Initiative, Dixie Land Guide Dog Users once again assisted with coordination and participation in presenting for area summer day camps. Together, we educated sighted children--ages seven thru fifteen--on the subjects of Braille, proper etiquette when meeting a blind person--with or without a service dog--, accessible technology and much more. Our thanks to the Charleston Animal Society for welcoming us to another series of BARK Camps, and to Patty Smith for bringing us back to the East Side Community Center, where there is always a lot of excitement, and hugs for everyone!

Laurel and Audrey with summer day campers at East Side Community Center

We continue to be available to serve as peer mentors for our blind brothers and sisters, and those who are in the process of losing their sight. Sometimes we meet in person, but most of our mentoring takes place via phone or Internet. We consider it an honor and a gift to hear Sofia's confidence growing as she speaks, or to witness Catherine learning to solve many of her own problems. We personally find that we are most often the ones who are mentored, and we thank God for every opportunity that He gives us to shine His Light in this way.

Dixie Landers at James Island County Park

In the fall, we got our families together for an afternoon of "Pizza In The Park." After a time of food and fellowship at James Island County Park, several of our members, their families and friends headed for the lake and the paddle boats!

Sheryl, her husband and grandson pulling away from dock in a paddle boat

In December,  we provided music for the Christmas parties of the Friends of Bartimaeus and also for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of South Carolina. Many guests in attendance, say that these celebrations served as their only means of socializing and celebrating the season with friends.

Audrey turned 70 this past December and we celebrated her with a birthday party. In lieu of gifts, Audrey asked her friends to bring nonperishable food items to help restock the Friends of Bartimaeus grocery pantry. Thanks to an overwhelming turnout of support, those pantry shelves were completely filled by the truckload of groceries delivered to Calvary Lutheran Church.
Already, 2018 promises to be a very busy and fulfilling year as we prepare to bring Top Dog back home to its Charleston roots in January of 2019! We hope you will visit often for more updates. Thanks for joining us in promoting one community at large and helping to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

From our President: Top Dog-2017 Highlights

Jessie and I just returned from a great weekend of fabulous fun; fantastic food and, of course, frantic furries! Kathleen Trutschel and Debbie Grubb, along with the others in GDUF outdid themselves with this year's Southeast Regional Top Dog Workshops and should be commended for their hard work of planning, preparing and ultimately providing everything necessary for such a wonderful weekend-long event!

There were over 150 attendees, guide dog school representatives, volunteers and guests there and it seemed that they were all out in the hotel's lobby the day we arrived! Never have I witnessed so many smiling faces, wagging furry tails and happy people gathered in one area at one time. They made us believe they were all there just to greet us. From the nice lady who met us at the door of the hotel to the smiling clerk at the registration desk, we were all made to feel as though we were welcomed, wanted and, yes, loved!

Thursday afternoon was filled with greeting old friends and meeting new ones. The multitude of tail-wagging, professionally trained happy guide dogs diligently leading their handlers to their respective destinations seemed to turn even the sternest of frowns into giant, toothy grins from the other hotel guests.

The hotel's staff was unbelievably sensitive to our every need and the guest rooms were large, accommodating and very comfortable. It seemed as though someone was always there to lend assistance whenever and where ever needed.

The friendly volunteers who manned the event's registration desk were also very friendly and well-versed in their duties. The registration packets were filled with lots of gourmet goodies for both the two and four legged guests and we all knew who those splendid toys were for! I still don't know how they managed to include so many things in those bags for so little money. Of course, Jessie is still loving that Kong. Unfortunately, we had to have a funeral for that quickly stuffless stuffed critter he destroyed!

The programs were informative and entertaining. We learned about CPR; Airport Procedures; Updates from the guide dog schools; allergies and how to combat them and lots and lots more!

Of course, our favorite was the "Blessing". Pastor Janet did a great job in communicating with our Christian handlers' individual prayer requests and conveying our Lord's Love to them.

Audrey blessing Andrea and her guide at Top Dog-Orlando

It was my distinct honor and extreme pleasure to have been asked to assist in such an emotional, heart-warming event where I, too, could offer prayer, God's powerful peace and comfort and solace to my fellow guide dog users. When they realized that I was also without physical sight, many exclaimed, "You know! You know!" And I did know. Because I, too, hold the harness handle I feel that loving bond between handler and guide. I know the fear of and actual need to retire a guide and, yes, I know the heart-wrenching pain of having to say "farewell" when my previous guide crossed over Rainbow Bridge to be with our Lord. It is because I know that I felt it necessary to remember those guides that had to retire from years of loyal guiding or that left this world to wait for us in the next. I can still hear those many voices call out the names, Luke, Caitlin, Fantasia, Maya, Marcell, Midas, Walker, Mason, Nason, Zack and on and on.

Gathering at Friday night dinner, Top Dog-Orlando

Throughout the entire weekend, the food was absolutely delicious and the servers made sure we had everything we needed.

Charlie Crawford's sharing on Saturday evening was enlightening, entertaining and quite humorous. We could actually feel his love and respect for each of his guides as he led us down the path of his Memory Lane.

I do believe there were 2 Jenine Stanleys! It seemed like everywhere we went and every event we attended, we could hear her loving, sweet, knowledgeable voice. Whether she was talking about finding our way somewhere or emceeing "Puppy Tails", Jenine was, indeed, a true asset to each program.

If at any time anyone felt the need for friendly fellowship or lip-smacking refreshment, he had only to visit the Hospitality Suite on the 10th floor. It was well-stocked with all sorts of snacks and sodas, coffee and tea and a smiling face to meet us upon entering the door.

The Exhibit Hall was unbelievable! There were toys, electronics, jewelry, candies, potions and lotions, visual aids and much, much more. There was everything to fill our faces, bodies and souls, including Jehovah's Witnesses, who offered all types of the Holy Bible in all kinds of formats.

Oh, I'm sure there were a few SNAFU's, but they were certainly unseen by the majority of the guests. Occasionally we heard about an unforeseen accident or an impromptu puppy kerfuffle but there was never any blood drawn or damage done…except maybe to the exasperated handler who may have been a bit overwhelmed at the enormity of the event and the magnitude of the crowds. Besides, those smart GDUFers had the wherewithal to have a couple of vets and vet technicians on hand, just in case!

Yes, Top Dog Orlando '17 may now be just a marvelous memory but you can bet your Aunt Martha's mittens it was a huge success! I hear the next Top Dog is scheduled for sometime in 2019 and will be hosted somewhere in Georgia. Those folks in Georgia Guide Dog Users always "put on the dog" and I'm already gearing up for yet another great weekend. Hope to see you all there!

Audrey and Jessie

Sunday, January 1, 2017

"Paws 4" a look back on 2016.

Dixie Landers Kimberly (with her guide Fonzie) and Laurel (with her long, white cane "Lady Liberty") speak to students attending Bark Camp.

Kimberly and Laurel presenting for Bark Camp

Throughout 2016, our "Paws 2 Educate" presentations have once again reached sighted individuals of all ages. We spoke to grade school and high school students attending the ASPCA Summer Bark Camps here in Charleston, SC. We also take pride in having assisted area Girl Scouts in earning their badges relating to service animals and people with disabilities. Here, our President Audrey Gunter and guide Jessie with fellow Dixie Landers Laurel and puppy raisers Peggy and Mike Sudol pose for a picture with Girl Scouts and their leaders.

Audrey, Laurel and the Sudols with Girl Scouts and their leaders

We have also enjoyed speaking to the College of Charleston Chapter of the Delta Gamma Sorority as part of this sorority's "Focus On Sight." Presentations like these allow us to offer sensitivity and awareness training to future business owners, teachers and other pillars of the community.

Another Southeast Region Top Dog Workshop will take place this coming January, 2017 in Orlando, FL. As the original founder of these unique workshops, our Dixie Land Guide Dog Users always look forward to doing our part toward planning, promoting and attending Top Dog.  We have also been asked to assist with the blessing, a highlight of Top Dog since the first workshop was held in 2006.

We are always available to answer phone calls and Emails from those who are newly blind, potential guide dog users and those who currently use guide dogs throughout the Lowcountry and beyond. Thru this network of peer support, we provide information regarding access issues and the availability of useful resources. Last spring, we were contacted by Project Okurase, an area nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the people who live in the West African village of Okurase. We met with Francis, a young boy blind from birth, who was brought to the United States for the diagnosis of his eye condition. We were able to find helpful resources for francis, including a solar powered talking Bible in his native tribal language of Ewe (pronounced "Ay-way.")

Thru our peer mentoring and advocacy, "Paws 2 Educate" and "Keeping Families Focused" initiatives, we continue to promote a positive image of our blind brothers and sisters among people of all ages, on all walks of life. Together, with your prayers and support, we can help to make this a better world for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Thank you for joining with us as we work to promote one community at large among those with and without sight.

About Us

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Charleston, SC, United States
Dixie Land Guide Dog Users is the South Carolina Affiliate of Guide Dog Users, Inc., the largest guide dog-related organization In the United States.