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! Due to the amazing response to our Top Dog-Charleston, 2019, our event hotel is booked to capacity and we are no longer taking registrations. Our heartfelt thanks to all of our registered attendees! We can't wait to see you in January!
For those of you who cannot attend in person, keep those ears up and stay tuned for our recorded sessions to be announced!

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

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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Remembering Zack

In Memory...

Zack The Guide Dog

Zack Gunter, November 27, 2000 -- April 11, 2014

"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth." -- (Isaiah 42:16)

Zack with his birth mother and siblings

On November 27, 2000, God sent a golden ray of sunshine into the world to light the Way of faith, hope and love and to bless many lives. Zack was born at Southeastern Guide Dog School in Palmetto, FL to birth parents Judy and Walker. This young man was truly a very special gift from God, Himself. He was, indeed God's Guiding Light.

Zack coming home with puppy raiser, Cheri Hall

At around ten weeks old, Zack went to live with his foster parents, puppy raisers Lew and Cheri Hall just a little further south of Palmetto. Here he is with "Mama Cheri." The next year was spent learning basic obedience, socialization and other skills needed to accomplish his life's work. He also signed on enthusiastically for the electives of eating and playing ball!

Zack's puppy picture with harness

This brave young man proved to be an exemplary scholar and ambassador for the sighted and blindness community. Although much of his early years were spent in the Sarasota Hospital (where "Mama Cherri" worked), he soon became a familiar face to hundreds who lived in that area. All too soon for his foster parents, Zack returned to Southeastern for professional harness training.

Zack and Audrey Graduating from Southeastern

On October 23, 2002, Zack was matched with his "new mom," Audrey Gunter who is now the President of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc. Shortly thereafter, he began to forge an indelible mark on society, in general-teaching others about guide dogs and the proper etiquette necessary from the public. He helped establish and pass South Carolina's Guide Dog Protection Law ("Layla's Law"); brought several hospitals' policies regarding service dogs into ADA compliance; made hundreds of public appearances promoting public awareness while offering peer mentoring and advocacy for the blind. He raised enough money to sponsor at least 5 special puppies that would eventually be trained to serve as guide dogs. In fact, it was his face alone that raised the funds to sponsor Horace, a handsome Australian Shepherd that would eventually be matched with the then President of Guide Dog Users of Florida. Zack even took time out of his busy schedule to pen "Zack's Tales," a "pawdobiographical" account of his early days and the first two years of working with his "mom."

Audrey and Zack at taylor's Baptism

In his short lifetime Zack traveled thousands of miles, across dozens of states always the pillar of strength and independence for his mom. Their most memorable journey together, though, was that beautiful Sunday morning-Palm Sunday, in fact- when he led his mom down that church aisle to receive and accept Christ! Since that time the two of them became licensed and ordained; anointed; received special dispensation to receive Holy Communion in an Indiana Catholic church; had their feet washed (he drank the water); received and projected the "Laying on of Hands" practice. He has visited virtually thousands in schools, hospitals, churches, businesses and assisted living facilities. It was he who would inspire our very first Top Dog way back in 2004 on a state level and the Southeastern Top Dog Workshops in 2006. Thanks to him hundreds of our blind brothers and sisters have come together in friendship and fun.

Zack in retirement ready to play ball

Zack retired from guiding his mom fulltime in November, 2010, taking on the job of directing "homeland security." Whenever his mom and her successor guide Jessie left the house, it was Zack's job to take care of things at home, including any food that may have been left on the edge of the table or kitchen counter. Ever faithful, Zack was always there for an enthusiastic welcome home (sometimes still licking crumbs from his whiskers), always ready for an exhilarating game of playing ball with his "mom and Bubby"."

Audrey and Zack together

"Zack was my buddy; my heartstrings; my first key to independence and my inspiration and I was and am proud to share him with the World," Audrey says. "Much too soon I had to return him back to the One from which he came and I miss him terribly. However, I thank God for those thousands of precious memories He's left me with and I thank you for allowing me to share him with you."

Yes, on April 11, 2014, God called this handsome young man Home to be with Him. Surely, Heaven is a little brighter now with Zack there, probably chasing a ball from star to star as he plays with his puppy raiser, "Daddy Lew" who passed away earlier this year. Our thanks to Cheri, who helped provide many of these pictures and continues to be a treasured member of our extended family. Cheri's devotion to raising Zack in his early days has led to the blessing of so many lives, too numerous to mention here. "Zack was a faithful and obedient servant," Cheri writes. "I hope he hears from the Lord, 'Well done my good and faithful servant.'"

Audrey adds, "I also thank Southeastern Guide Dog School for providing me with a life that I dared not even dream of ever having."

So many of us are so much the better for having known and loved Zack, that gallant, faithful, loving, whimsical, wonderful Guide Dog. He left his paw prints on our hearts, and for that we are truly grateful.


Friday, March 14, 2014

In Memory...

Laurel and Zettie on a snowy day

Pictured here is our Secretary/Treasurer, Laurel Jean Walden, with her beautiful, black Lab mix Zettie on a snowy day in Charleston, SC. Zettie passed away on Wednesday. The following is posted in Zettie's memory by our President, Audrey Gunter.

Zettie Walden



She was a beautiful girl-tall, tantalizingly tall; long and sleek with gorgeous, shiny, silk-like hair; captivating big, brown eyes-one could be consumed by those eyes; soft, unbelievably soft ears and an attitude that quickly told you that you were in the presence of royalty!  She was, after all, the Empress Queen Diva!  She was the boss and she had no problems letting folks know it, either.

She was also a character-goofy and clumsy and just so-so funny; but majestic at the same time.  She'd blunder into a room, tail wagging, knocking things about with every step; look around for just that perfect person; plow through anything in her way; take that regal, long nose of hers and place it just under one's hand.  Then she'd throw her head up in the air, taking the hand with her!  That was her way of introducing herself.  She was just as genteel as she was rambunctious, though. Zettie could have very easily passed as a guide dog but Laurel made sure that she was never mistaken as a service dog.  I was always amazed how well Zettie interacted with the many, many service dogs she came into contact with over the years.

As big as a small horse and stubborn as a large mule, she was such a loud, demanding yet ever-so faithful soul-with the wisdom of an aged sage.  She took on other's responsibilities like a mother hen.  She appointed herself as attendant to others and made sure those in her charge knew she was the boss!

Loyal, faithful, loving, exuberant Zettie!  What a girl she was!  She crossed over Rainbow Bridge Wednesday with her mom, Laurel by her side.  Zettie is running through the Heavens right now-free from pain and hurt. 

Zettie and I had this thing we did with me shaking my fist at her saying, "I'm gonna give you one of these right across the kisser!" 

She'd always prance on those two big front feet and give me that playful growl of hers that would make anyone smile.

God continues to bless us in many ways.  I know He blessed me by knowing sweet Zettie and I believe the entire world is a bit better for having her among us. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


The following press release may be of interest to our visitors...

Beginning in February 2014, a new model for guide dog training will provide individualized training approaches to meet specific needs of students


January 2014 – Smithtown, NYThe Guide Dog Foundation is excited to announce it will now offer its accredited guide dog training in a 12-day program. Beginning in February 2014, this new curriculum will offer a 2:1 student/instructor ratio and will focus on incorporating a blend of customized training formats to meet the specific lifestyles and needs of students while maximizing the training time in class for students and their dogs as they prepare for real-world situations.


"We are implementing this new approach in order to meet the needs of our blind and visually impaired applicants while also being respectful of our students' time to commit to training with a guide dog," says Wells B. Jones, CEO of the Guide Dog Foundation. "This is an exciting change for the program. Our students will graduate with their dog in a shorter amount of time while gaining the real-world training targeted specifically to their lifestyles."


The hallmark of the Guide Dog Foundation is its meticulous matching program to ensure that each applicant is teamed with the guide dog that best suits that person's personality, lifestyle, and physical needs. This refined training program will now offer greater individualized training in concentrated sessions. While the student will spend fewer days on campus, the amount of practical training will increase. This represents a change from the Foundation's previous four-week residential training.


In addition, because of the lower student-to-trainer ratio, students and instructors will be able to cover their specific needs pertaining to their home environments by focusing on various training walks (urban, country and night walks); mass transit situations, including train platforms, subway, and bus travel; traffic area training and other types of conditions.


Students in class will continue to participate in lectures on grooming and care for their dog, obedience practice, accessibility awareness and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and guide dog etiquette for non-guide dog users.


The Foundation will still offer home training if it is determined that a student's needs will be best met by this type of intensive training; this decision is made on a case-by-case basis.  

For questions about the guide dog training program visit www.GuideDog.org or contact the Guide Dog Foundation Consumer Services Office at 866-282-8047.


About the Guide Dog Foundation


For over six decades, the Guide Dog Foundation has supported the independence, enhanced mobility, and companionship a guide dog brings to its handler. Students come to its Smithtown, N.Y., campus from all over the United States and Canada for the quality of Foundation dogs and its innovative training techniques.  


There is never a cost to consumers for their guide or service dogs. The Guide Dog Foundation relies on contributions from generous individuals, corporations, service clubs, and foundations to support its programs. It does not receive government funding.


In 2009, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind became the first assistance dog school in the United States to be certified by the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International. It was recertified by both regulatory bodies in 2013.


To learn more or to donate, visit www.GuideDog.org.


Paws 2 Meet Laurel Jean!

From the President...

Laurel at Grand piano

Keys are Key

Whether sitting at her desk, typing on her computer keyboard or at her Casio, popping out tunes on her digital pianos, or exercising her vocal chords, always hitting just that right note, Laurel Jean Walden seems to constantly be “on key.”

An accomplished recording artist, composer/writer, vocalist, pianist, and motivational speaker, Laurel Jean has dedicated her life to presenting God’s message with her music. Laurel began her professional career at 14; produced her first album while still a teenager and has 12 CD’s to her credit.

The epitome of “independence”, Laurel frequently travels all across the country accompanied only by “White Lightning”, her long, white cane. When asked why she chooses not to use a dog guide Laurel smiles and replies, “Well, I love dogs-all dogs. If I’m traveling on a job and my cane breaks, I can always get a new one. If I had a guide dog, though, and something happened to it while traveling...well, it would just break my heart!” She is very active, enjoys scheduling her own travel itinerary, as well as hiking/walking, tandem biking and bowling.

Laurel talking to Zettie

Laurel quickly adds that she has a dog, Zettie-a beautiful black lab mix. "She’s not a service dog. She's my little girl and I love her with a love that is bigger than life!"

In addition to her music, ministry, and Chaplaincy for God’s Blind Kids of all ages, Laurel is a Certified Braille Proofreader by the U.S. Library of Congress. She also serves as Secretary/Treasurer of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and, in fact, created and maintains this website.

Laurel dedicates much of her time towards helping others. One of the many ways she serves God is by providing talking Bibles to those who cannot read because of blindness or severe learning disabilities. She truly does shine His Light on those who would live in perpetual darkness.

Laurel with Grace Church choir

Two of Laurel’s favorite things to do, though,would be to sing and play the piano for the choir at her home church, Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC. She even used her computer to print out one of her very own songs for the choir to sing with her! She never ceases to amaze us with her unbridled adventurous nature. Last year she displayed her dancing skills with the Interpretive Dance group and she’s already planning to try her hand at acting in this year’s Easter production. She has even been known to assist withmeal preparation for church fellowship events!

If that isn’t enough, Laurel continues to serve as a vital member of our Dixie Land Guide Team when we’re out doing a “Paws 2 Educate” program and is already working hard in the planning of next year’s Top Dog-Charleston, 2015!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Paws 4 a look back on 2013!

Pastor Linda blessing guide team

Pastor Linda Trowbridge, senior pastor of Bethany Park Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, Rantoul, IL blesses one of the many guide teams attending The Top Dog 2013 Blessing of the Guides. Thanks again to Georgia Guide Dog Users, and Guide Dog Users of Florida for joining with us to make Top Dog Savannah a tail-wagging success! Dixie Land was responsible for assisting in planning, audio, music/entertainment, pastors for The Blessing as well as purchase of the token coins given out at this event. We’re happy to announce that Top Dog is coming home to Charleston, SC in 2015! Plans are under way for another down-home, southern weekend filled with food, fun, fellowship and furries! Check back soon for more details!

Celebrate CD cover

Top Dog 2013 marked the debut of a very special song, written by Dixie Land officer Laurel Jean. “The Blessing of Your Love” is a heartwarming musical tribute to the love shared between guide dogs and their handlers. You can hear a sample of the song and check out Laurel Jean’s “Celebrate” CD on her Albums Page.

Audrey speaks at Fort Johnson Baptist Church

Our President Audrey Gunter and guide Jessie address the Girls In Action of Fort Johnson Baptist Church, Charleston James Island, SC as part of Dixie Land’s Paws 2 Educate Initiative. Our thanks to the Girls In Action and the Seniors of Fort Johnson for making Dixie Land GDU and Music By Laurel Jean part of their schedules, and for their generous financial sponsorship toward the continuation of our work in the community.

Cub Scouts looking at Braille

Cub Scouts of Goose Creek, SC take time to connect the dots to the Braille code. Our visit to Goose Creek helped these young Scouts as they learned about the importance of being kind to others.

Shelby at Space Camp

Thanks to Bill and Debbie Craig, parents of Dixie Lander Shelby Craig, for sending this picture of Shelby at Space Camp. This young lady is not about to allow her blindness to stop her from reaching for the stars!

Dixie Landers at the Dock Street Theater

Thanks also to Bill and Debbie for sending this picture, taken at our outing for pizza and a visit to the Dock Street Stage, part of our Keeping Families Focused Initiative. A big thanks to the Dock Street Stage for providing the tickets which helped make this fun evening possible for Dixie Landers and family members.

drama presentation at Worship Arts Camp

Our Immediate Past Vice President, Taylor Jones Stebbins, joins youth in a drama presentation as part of the Worship Arts Camp hosted by Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC. Our thanks to Grace UMC for being so open to giving God’s outa sight kids the same opportunities to minister in the Body of Christ with all other members.

Ann and Brego visit Santa

Finally, just in, we had to share this from Dixie Lander Ann Humphries and her guide Brego in Columbia, SC as they visit with Santa Claus, or is that “Santa Paws?”

2014 is already proving to be an exciting year. Check back often for posts, and updates on how you can get involved. Thanks to our Dixie Landers and friends, especially the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Charleston, SC, for your ongoing prayers and support! Together, we really can make the world a better place!


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.