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.
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.
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
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