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.

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.

Dixie Lander in "Hawg" Heaven!

Ann Humphries on Motorcycle

Dixie Land GDU member Ann Humphries, Columbia, SC was guest of Chuck & Carol Beaty , long time friends from Spring Valley Presbyterian Church, who arranged a morning country back- roads trip on a Harley Davidson Touring bike. Brego (Ann's guide dog) sat out this trip, but only after sniffing the tires. The driver described the country scenery. Kirk joined Ann and the host couple for lunch in historic Ridgeway, SC in Fairfield County.

Friday, August 28, 2015

In Memory

picture of Wayne Fridrich, Jr.

Dixie Land Guide Dog Users Paws 2
Say "Thank You!"
In Memory of Wayne Fridrich Jr.


As most of you already know, Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Guide Dog Users of Florida and Georgia Guide Dog Users, with the generous sponsorship of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Charleston, held our bi-annual Southeast Regional Top Dog Workshops here in Charleston, SC in January of this year.  We hosted over 150 registrants, including 9 guide dog schools and over 90 dogs from across the continental USA.  In addition to these we also were privileged to have dozens of much-needed volunteers to help with whatever was needed at the time.  One of our beloved members and a former puppy raiser for Fidelco and Southeastern, Peggy Sudol was our Volunteer Co-coordinator.
Peggy solicited assistance from many of the organizations with which she was associated and, when that list was exhausted, she began to recruit family members.
Wayne Fridrich, Jr., Peggy's son, traveled from his home in Connecticut specifically to help us.  In fact, when he heard of an impending treacherous snow storm approaching his area, he intentionally re-scheduled his flight a day ahead in order to avoid the blizzard!
When his plane landed, Wayne hit the ground running!  He and his step-dad, Mike, immediately began transferring all the items we'd been accumulating over the past several months to the hotel.  He helped Mike and Russ create and maintain our "portable relief area", helped fold t-shirts and bandanas; stuffed our registration backpacks; helped with registration and in the Hospitality Suite; assisted with foot traffic in the hotel lobby and Exhibit Hall and even pitched in at dinner times.  There was no job too small for this nice young man!
Although Wayne was stricken with a serious health condition for several years, he'd fought it valiantly.  Unfortunately, however, Wayne lost his battle and went to live with our Lord a few months ago.  Please join with me and my fellow Dixie Landers as we offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the privilege of having known Wayne-even if it were for such a short time and another prayer for Peace for Peggy and her family as they mourn his passing. 
Thanks, Wayne, for all you did and thank you, God for Wayne!  Rest in Peace, my friend!

From our President — Audrey Gunter

Promoting Inclusion Ministry.

Laurel Jean with United Methodist Women of Latta, SC

Here is our Secretary/Treasurer Laurel Jean Walden, at Spartanburg Methodist College with United Methodist Women from Latta, SC at the close of the 2015 South Carolina Mission u (formerly the School of Christian Missions." For the past couple of years, Laurel has served as Music Director for this event. Both she and our President Audrey Gunter have also served as study leaders for the UMW course, "The Church and People With Disabilities."

Every two years, the United Methodist Women feature a new class on the subject of social justice. The study of "The Church and People With Disabilities" was offered as part of the 2014 and 2015 Mission u events. Our thanks to the national body of United Methodist Women for growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God as we work toward making The Body of Christ on earth the inclusive Body of differently able members which God intends the church to be.

Paws 4 Summer Camp!

Summer day campers enjoy playtime with Jessie.

It is always a fulfilling experience for us Dixie Land Guide Dog Users  to speak to children as part of our "Paws 2 Educate Initiative." Here, children attending the Charleston, SC ASPCA 2015 Summer Bark Camp are enjoying a little out-of-harness time with Jessie, the guide dog of Dixie Land GDU President Audrey Gunter.

Whether spending time at Bark Camp, or at the City of Charleston's Summer Day Camp held at the St. Julian Devine Center (another of this summer's highlights), there is never a dull moment. It probably goes without saying that God's kids of all ages enjoy learning about guide dogs and having the opportunity to speak personally with Jessie. The young people also ask a lot of well-thought-out questions about blindness, Braille, the technology that we use and how we who are blind experience life. We find that, as we  take the time to answer such questions, the barriers which seem to divide the sighted and blindness communities decrease significantly. We believe that with every presentation for one of these summer day camps, we grow just a little closer to living as one community at large.  As always, thanks for your ongoing prayers and support.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dinner In The Dark

Once again, in keeping with our ever-present attempts towards sensitivity and awareness education, Dixie Land Guide Dog Users sponsored another Dinner in the Dark, co-hosted by our great friends at Grace United Methodist Church.

Much preparation was required to have such an event.  Assignments had to be made; food purchased and prepared; room set-up; volunteers in place; blindfolds made; bibs constructed; and advertisement sent!

Delta Gammas making bibs for Dinner in the Dark

Thanks to the great relationship Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and the nice young ladies at the College of Charleston's Delta Gamma sorority share, our bibs were completed in less than an hour!  Those girls set up an assembly line, cutting and converting large trash bags into stain-repellant plastic bibs. Some even showed up to take advantage of the great food, fantastic fellowship and fabulous furries!

Volunteers from Grace UMC cut the yards and yards of material into blindfolds, prepared signs, set up the fellowship hall and actually served the piping hot, scrumtee-da-lishus, mouth-watering, palate pleasing spaghetti,  garlic bread and 'nana pudding Chuck prepared.

Dixie Landers at Dinner in the Dark

Some of our Dixie Landers present to enjoy the evening were Audrey Gunter, (with Jessie) President, Tweety Ford, (with Evonne) Vice-President, Laurel Jean Walden, (with White Lightn'in)  Secretary/Treasurer, Sheryl (with Houston) and Russ Hedrick (with retired guide, Luke), members.

The only thing better than the food was the fellowship we all enjoyed!  Sorry YOU couldn't make it.  Maybe next time…and there will be a next time.  Hope to see you there!

Top Dog Charleston

Thank You!
The silence now enveloping the hotel is almost deafening.  The somberness of the lobby is more like that of a funeral home than that of the laughter filled, dog-jammed, crowded hotel where fun-loving folks of all ages and their helpful furry guides gathered with joy and enthusiasm.  The staff stands there teary-eyed, fondly remembering the group they'd come to know so well in such a short amount of time.  The housekeeping staff has already begun to vacuum the mounds hair and crumbs unknowingly left there by their 2 and 4 legged guests.  

Top Dog-Charleston is now history-a memory…but what a memory it was!  Some arrived as early as 7 days prior to our opening ceremonies to escape from the bone-chilling frigid temps of their home states and, of course to live, taste, hear, touch and breathe Charleston.  Most planned to take advantage of our great prices and better climates by extending their stays for at least 3 additional days.  
They came from everywhere!  California, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, and many, many other states were well represented in our ranks.  Total strangers when they arrived became close, forever friends when they departed.  Folks who had experienced valid differences of opinions in the past put those issues aside and were soon hugging each other in the hallways!  Some would say the catalyst was the charm and spirit of our "Holy City" but I believe it was simply God continuing to offer His blessings to us, through us and among us.
The journey began almost 2 years prior with a handful of Dixie Landers and a limitless number of ideas.  They worked together to find just the right venue-the right programs-the right caterer and the right entertainment.  GDUI had been badly fractured and no one knew whether anyone would even attend Top Dog, but they continued on with their search, soul depending on God's Divine Guidance.  They'd learned long ago that God is, indeed a gentleman.  If invited, He'll always attend and bring His bountiful blessings.  If left out, He stands silently by as a spectator, and reserves those many blessings.
They remained faithful and obedient, inviting any and everyone who wanted to attend.  No one was omitted.  Their objective was to make everyone feel wanted, welcomed and loved and they began with their initial invitation.  At first a few began to respond; then more and then, even more.  Soon, within 2 months, over 50 had been registered.  Friday morning's events started with Dixie Land's very own Brianna Murray and Kimberly Taylor presenting our "Paws 4 Technology".  Soon Janet Ingber joined in to bring everyone up to date on the use of the iPhone and iPad.  Before the Opening Ceremonies began on Friday night, 154 people had registered-94 blind, 81 with guide dogs; 19 vendors; 9 guide dog schools; umpteen puppy raisers and dozens of loving, supportive friends and/or spouses.

opening ceremonies

Laurel and Audrey at opening ceremonies

That meeting room was crowded more than ever.  People were elbow to elbow and furries, tail to snout!  The mumbling roar became silent as Laurel Jean and Audrey offered their official welcome!  Pastor Ed Grant officially started our event with a heartfelt prayer of invocation.  When Laurel Jean began to sing "that"  song ("The Blessing of Your Love") written specifically to speak of the love between handler and guide, loving tears began to flow.  Bob Acosta then read a brief history of our flag and the brave veterans from the American Legion, troop 179 proudly marched in to "Present the Colors".  Debbie Grubb then stood to draw a correlation between the various Bugle Calls and the many stages of life for a guide dog team.  Our national GDUI president, Penny Reader rose to update us all on the latest development of that organization we knew and loved.  Over 10 people and/or organizations were recognized for their generosity and support before a brief intermission was called and our delicious "Frogmore Stew" began!  Soon lips were smacking and folks were laughing as they attacked the mountains of fried chicken and shrimp on their plates.  

Because our guests had completely occupied all of the rooms at the Comfort Inn & Suites, West Ashley, we were given a little more latitude so we grabbed the tables and chairs from the breakfast area and converted the entire lobby into a swanky restaurant.  When all had eaten as much as they could and their dogs relieved, they retired to their rooms for a much-needed rest in order to prepare for the next day.

Pastor Deb Trevino offers prayer at Blessing

GDUI President Penny Reeder receives blessing from Pastor Bonnie Miller

Saturday began with Pastors Bonnie Miller and Deb Trevino officiating at our Christian ceremony, "The Blessing".  They each offered a prayer prior to Laurel Jean's tribute to those guides that had retired recently.  Afterwards Laurel initiated a special, audible candle lighting salute to those guides that had crossed "Rainbow Bridge".  As she called the name of each of our heroes, a lone chime would ring to honor their memories.
Table with harness and bowl at Blessing

Remembering a past guide at prayer table

A prayer station with 2 empty, upside down harnesses and an upside down food bowl was prepared for folks to visit and remember.  The ministers assigned at that station were so moved by those who visited that prayer station that they, themselves needed consoling.  They'd never experienced a love between human and animal like that illustrated before them that day.

guide dog puppy in training

Marshall and Michael from Sun Dog Cat Moon talked with us about emergency first aid supplies and the benefit of massage therapy for our guides.  Afterwards we heard from the many puppy raisers in attendance! (Did you know that I love puppy raisers?)  I think as handlers, we were all surprised to find out that these heroes who have given us our angels actually admire and respect us as much as we admire and respect them!

Following the tears and cheers from and by our puppy raisers and guests, we all took a break to enjoy our scrumptidalicious boxed lunches.  Mind you, while all of this was taking place our exhibit hall was buzzing with visitors upstairs and our motorcyclists were rounding up their next victims…I mean riders.

After lunch Penny Reeder brought us all up to date on GDUI-the hurdles and obstacles already conquered  and remaining to overcome.  Becky Barnes Davidson and Dr. Deni Elliott spoke about the various airports that offer relief areas within their security zones.  Afterwards they ramrodded us on that especially touchy topic of fake service dogs and how they affect us, legitimate handlers.  Both ladies offered an extremely informative, invaluable view into the problem and various diverse, and even unpopular at times resolutions.  Many guests shared their personal insight towards the issue.  The discussion became heated at times, but that was simply because of the passion felt towards the subject.  

Our last scheduled discussion, "Pup dates from the Guide Dog Schools" was quite informative and uplifting.  Representatives from Fidelco;  Freedom Dogs for the Blind; Gallant Heart; Guide Dog Foundation; Guide Dogs for the Blind; Guiding Eyes for the Blind; Leader Dogs for the Blind; The Seeing Eye and Southeastern Guide Dogs did a great job in bringing us up to date on their latest endeavors.  Afterwards, they all met outside to erect and oversee a great obstacle course that only the brave and confident would embark upon.  There were many of them there, too-all with chests puffed out and "I knew we could" smiles on their faces.

Saturday evening ended with another lip-smacking, tongue titalating lowcountry cuisine straight from Jaimie's smoking barbecue pots!  Yum!  Yum!  I can still taste that good ol' slap your mama good chicken and pork, perfectly seasoned and lovingly prepared!
Our event closed with the hand-clapping, finger-snapping, foot-tapping music of Ann Caldwell and the Magnolia Singers melodically transporting us through history to a much different, simpler-yet not so much nicer time.  Everyone there enjoyed her "Gullah-Geechie" from another era and culture.

Sunday morning began early with folks leaving for their red eye flights back home.  The majority of our guests were checked out and gone by noon, leaving just a handful to reminisce about Top Dog-Charleston and plan for Top Dog-Orlando!

By all accounts, our event was extremely successful, thanks to everyone in attendance and, especially to God!  We'd also like to offer a special note of thanks to all of our many wonderful volunteers and the management and staff of the Comfort Inn and Suites, West Ashley.  All there went way out of their way to accommodate each of us, but there were 2 ladies in particular who sacrificed their day off to return just to assist us with our breakfasts!  Thank you, Miss Angela and Miss Cynthia!

So, Top Dog-Charleston is now history and we all look forward to hearing more from Debbie and Kathleen as Guide Dog Users of Florida begin to plan and prepare for Top Dog-Orlando in 2017!

Top Dog, 2015 Audio and Photos

Here is a list of pictures and audio from Top Dog, 2015. They are on Dropbox, and you must either sign up or sign into Dropbox to access them. You can copy and paste the URLs into a new window of your browser.

Top Dog, 2015 Audio:

Top Dog, 2015 Candid Shots

Top Dog, 2015 photos from Fake Service Dog Presentation

Top Dog, 2015 pictures of various Guide Dog schools

Top Dog, 2015 Miscellaneous Guide Dog shots

Top Dog, 2015 Motorcycle pictures

Top Dog, 2015 Opening Ceremonies

Top Dog, 2015 Paws 4 Technology

Top Dog, 2015 Puppy Raisers

Top Dog, 2015 Saturday evening entertainment

Top Dog, 2015 The Blessing

Top Dog, 2015 Paws 4 Recognition

Top Dog, 2015 Paws 4 Wellness

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.