Have you ever seen a guide dog “on the job?” I’m always amazed by these animals and the independence and confidence they can bring to a visually-impaired person. The blind depend on their dogs for their life, and the dogs carry that responsibility with grace.
I’d like to learn more about guide dogs and their people, would love to delve into the reciprocal relationship between the dog and and owner that is built on a foundation of amazing trust. Because these dogs are working when I see them, I don’t interrupt them or their owners.
But this coming Saturday I’ll have my opportunity to meet several guide dogs and their owners as well as guide dog groups from across the US and Canada. I’ll be attending the Top Dog Funvention, sponsored by Charleston based Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, the South Carolina Affiliate of Guide Dog Users, Inc., which is the largest guide dog-related organization in the United States.
The three day annual meeting of guide dog users is January 15-17th at the Best Western on Spring Street in Downtown Charleston. On Saturday, from 2-4, the event is open to the public in order to raise awareness of guide dogs and guide dog users. I talked with Laurel Walden, secretary/treasurer of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, to learn more about what to expect at the public exhibit.
“The public portion of the event is geared toward raising awareness of guide dog users. It serves as an opportunity to discuss our needs in a community, and to educate the public on the appropriate way to interact with owners and their dog guides,” says Walden.
Walden also told us a bit more information about the types of booths and exhibits to expect.
The nation’s top guide dog schools will be in attendance, and one can learn much about their programs including volunteer, donation and puppy-raising programs. The SC School for the Deaf and Blind will have a technology exhibit. There will be a booth with White Cane Day information and awareness products. White Cane Safety Awareness Day, October 15th of every year, is set aside to recognize the white cane and to teach sighted people about the purpose and use of the white cane by the blind. And of course, there will be guide dogs and people to meet.
Walden suggests being considerate when approaching a visually-impaired person with their guide dog. Ask for permission before engaging the dog, and be respectful if someone declines to answer your questions or prefers that you don’t pet their guide dog. Walden explains, “guide dog users are just like everyone else. Some of us are more private and prefer to keep information about our lives to ourselves, whereas others would love to talk to any one about our guide dogs and what our daily life is like.”
The public portion of the event is held on Saturday Jan. 16th from 2-4 in the Magnolia Room of the Best Western, 50 Spring Street, Charleston. If you aren’t able to make it, keep an eye here on the LCD blog. We’ll be adding photos and post event information next week!
More information on the Dixie Land Guide Dog Users as well as donations toward their non-profit can be found by clicking HERE.