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We Dixie Land Guide Dog Users are the South Carolina affiliate of Guide Dog Users, Inc. Scroll down 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.

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.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Good bye ’15, hello ’16!

Happy New Year, friends and furries!  Dixie Land Guide Dog Users enjoyed a busy, yet productive 2015 and we're looking forward to an even busier, more productive 2016.  

Audrey, Jessie and Laurel speaking to College of Charleston Delta Gammas

Our Dixie Land Guide Team truly enjoys each opportunity we get to educate and enlighten both the blindness community and the sighted.  We are thrilled to have been able to form a long-lasting relationship with the great girls of the Delta Gammas at the College of Charleston and are happy to oblige any time they ask us to come and speak with their members.

Picture of Delta Gammas

Some of the ladies have confessed they'd attended our talks several times, but always look forward to hearing our stories and petting Jessie, of course.  I think it's more about Jessie than us, though! (grin)

Much has happened in the past year.  We enjoyed visiting with over 150  two-legged and 90 four-legged friends at our now infamous Top Dog-Charleston, 2015.  What a great time we all had!  The only thing better than the food, workshops, entertainment and exhibits was the fellowship.  If you were there, then you know what we mean.  If not, well…hopefully you can make it to Top Dog-Orlando, 2017.

We cannot look back upon the past year without remembering 2 of our special heroes-Lacey and Brego.  Lacey, a beautiful black gold-a-dor from Foundation Guide Dog School was Brianna Murray's first guide.  They were matched back in 2011 just prior to Brianna becoming a freshman at Winthrop University.  Lacey did a great job leading Brianna to each of their classes over their 4 years together before showing obvious signs of retirement.  Lacey's last official duty was to guide Brianna up to the front of the crowd to accept "their" diploma!  Lacey is now living with her "Grandma & Grandpa" Murray in Charleston, enjoying the lap of luxurious retirement while Hopps, a strikingly beautiful black lab guides Brianna through grad school!  Congratulations, Brie and Hopps! You can see pictures of them, and lots of others, on our Facebook page.

Of course, we all remember Brego and what an ambassador he was for our mid-lands Dixie Lander, Ann Humphries.  They began their journey together back in 2010 and worked side by side for 5 years.  When Brego began to give subtle signs of needing to retire, Ann took notice and contacted her school.  The trainers and staff at Southeastern Guide Dog School agreed it was time, so Ann returned to their Florida campus to get her successor guide, Monty.  Monty has some big doggy shoes to fill, but we know he is up to the task!

We're currently in the planning stages for this year's activities.  We've already been asked to do some training for a nearby county and look forward to our newly formed relationship with the City of Charleston ADA representative, for whom we recently served as part of a small focus group.  Of course, we are going to continue with our partnership in Christian Ministry and currently are busy trying to arrange various group activities and special appearances.  

If you'd like to know more about what we've done and where we've gone, simply click on the other posts on this site. Be sure to come back to our site more often!  Meanwhile, we pray God's continued good blessings on you and yours.  Remember, with God's divine guidance and that special pup by your side, you CAN do anything!

From Audrey Gunter (President) and Guide Dog Jessie (Executive Director to the President), Dixie Land Guide Dog Users

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Celebrating Independence

Dixie Landers at the entrance of Patriots Point

It was a beautiful, sun-drenched morning here in South Carolina.  A few Dixie Landers and friends joined together at Patriot's Point Naval Museum in nearby Mount Pleasant, to learn, fellowship and, perhaps even teach while spending a couple of enjoyable hours aboard the USS destroyer Laffey, the World War II aircraft carrier, Yorktown and the USS submarine, Clagamore, all of which now part of the Patriot's Point Naval Museum.

We were met at the park's entrance by Cindy C.; Cindy L.; Molly and Melissa who graciously and patiently offered to escort us all around the premises.  The very first piece of precious memorabilia we stumbled across was their tribute to the 995 South Carolinians who gave their lives during the Viet Nam war.  Surges of pride, patriotism and gratitude embraced us as we ever so gently ran our fingers across the multitudes of replicated dog tags hanging on their wall. We all agreed how blessed and fortunate we were to live in such a magnificent country.

Dixie Landers on the Destroyer Laffey with Plankowner Ari the Greek

Soon Cindy C. began to tell us about a handful of volunteers who had donated their time and efforts that entire week towards the up-keep and appearance of the destroyer Laffey.  Before long a couple of those dedicated fellows were introducing themselves to us and telling us how they'd all been connected to that destroyer at one time or another.  We all thanked them for their service and remarked how it was through their efforts that we were even allowed to be there. N Then, it happened!  From out of no where walked "Ari, the Greek", or, at least that's how they introduced him.  Ari, now living with his wife and family in Portland, Oregon, proudly donned a bright orange shirt that had printed on the front, "USS Laffey Plankowner".  He explained that he had been assigned to "her" when she was commissioned back in 1943 and spent 2 years aboard during World War II.  We were all spellbound as Ari began a very special guided tour of "his" Laffey.
Dropping my harness handle and clutching Jessie's leash, I quickly grabbed Ari's left arm as he began to show us around.  Suddenly it was June 6, 1944 and we were off Utah Beach during the invasion of Normandy!  Surrounded by various other ships in the United States Naval fleet and umbrellad by a cloud of US bombers, we could almost hear the guns blazing, bombs bursting and guns blaring.  Ari affectionately escorted us from stern to bow; lee and port side, taking my hand and placing it on various areas of the ship that had received damage.  His voice was filled with pride as he pointed out the "hedgehogs"; gunnery deck and radar equipment.  He stopped at one point to tell us a story or two about a couple of shipmates during the invasion and to allow us an opportunity to feel where a Japanese Kamikaze struck her dead on during the battle of Okinawa!  It was mind-boggling to know that even after all that, the Laffey still continued on.  No wonder she's known as "the Ship that Would Not Die"! 
I learned that Ari had spent over 2 years aboard the USS Laffey, most of which engaged in warfare.  How difficult that must have been for all of them-especially Ari.  I asked if he'd been given any opportunity for worship during that time and he sadly replied that they'd had no chapel on board, which was really hard for him since his dad had been a Priest.  

Dixie Landers in front of large flag on Yorktown Hangar Deck

Much too soon our tour of the Laffey was over and it was time to visit the Yorktown.  There was no comparison between the two in size.  One was a destroyer and the other an aircraft carrier.  One was the size of a city block and the other, an entire city!
The Yorktown was commissioned in 1937 and fought during World War II until she was sunk in 1942.  She now sits proudly in the shadows of the newly erected Ravenel Bridge in the Cooper River just outside of Charleston, SC.
Because of time constraints, our tour of  the Yorktown was somewhat rushed but we did get to visit the flight deck, hanger deck and a few other points of interest. 

Dixie Landers on Yorktown flight hangar deck with Mascot Scrappy

As we passed their mess hall, we could actually hear the tinkling of glasses and clanking trays just like it was so very many years ago when that ship was fully manned.  Our lunch at Sticky Fingers was delicious and we even got to have our photos made with their mascot, Scrappy!

touring helicopter

Before long we were headed towards the gangplank and the parking lot. We'd have to see the submarine Clagamore another day.  But wait!  Some of us still had one more thing they absolutely had to do.  Within a few moments, Kimberly Taylor, Laurel Jean Walden and Kimberly's friend Cindy were jumping in the tour helicopter and flying over Fort Sumter and the Battery. 
"This is the best day ever," Kimberly said as she exited the chopper area.  

We'd only spent 4 hours visiting Patriot's Point, but we'll have a lifetime of memories from our time there.  Thank you, Cindy C,; Cindy L.; Melissa and Molly for an incredible day and a very special note of appreciation goes out to all of the brave men and women who have served or are now serving in our US military, especially "Ari, the Greek."

Of course, none of this would have been possible if not for our driver, Libby who generously donated her time and vehicle to transport us.  God bless you all and God bless the USA!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Brego the Brave

Retirement portrait of guide dog Brego

Pictured here is the retirement portrait of Brego (Columbia, SC). Brego is the first guide of Dixie Land GDU member Ann Humphries. He returns to his loving puppy raiser family, the Gruvers of Montgomery, AL on September 13th. Ann says, "Brego has been an exceptional guide. We've had so many wonderful adventures. He has a huge fan club!"

Ultimate Outsider

Brego was awarded "Ultimate Outsider Status" by the South Carolina State Parks. He has stayed in 22 parks! The parks are commissioning an "Ultimate Outsider" pillow for Brego.

Our prayers are with both Brego and Ann during this time of transition.

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.