Leader of the Pack
Wildrose has also, in recent years, branched out from hunting Labs. It now also trains “adventure dogs”: calm, knowledgeable dogs that are game for such various undertakings as snowshoeing, camping, boating, and polite companionship when you take one to your office or a restaurant.
In the last two years, the kennels have also started training Wild-rose Labs as “diabetic dogs,” since in addition to their affability, the dogs’ good noses allow them to pick up on the change in a diabetic human’s breath as the person descends into potentially dangerous low blood sugar, alerting the master of the impending problem.
“Fully finished” Wildrose dogs aren’t cheap; they run from $10,000 to $15,000, depending on their skill sets. And so you have to ask yourself: Is any dog worth that?
Still, as testimony to the dogs and their abilities, Stewart’s list of repeat customers is long and impressive. It includes Richard Adkerson, CEO of the mining giant Freeport-McMoran; Steve Reynolds, CEO of Baptist Hospital Systems; and John Newman, president of Ducks Unlimited.
Stewart and his wife, Cathy, plus a staff of about a dozen, work at Wildrose Kennels’ home base, 143 well-tended acres of field, ponds, and timber east of Oxford. They also have training facilities in Arkansas, and access to 580 acres of gorgeous Clear Creek Ranch in Colorado, where they teach adult dogs higher-altitude skills. Beyond that, they maintain several partnership facilities in the United Kingdom, where the Wildrose bloodline originated.
“I’m a retired cop,” Stewart says, as he walks me toward a line of kennels on the property. “Seven years with the Oxford, Mississippi, police department, then eighteen as chief of police at Ole Miss. But I’ve been piddling around training dogs as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved dogs—and training them. I trained my first Lab, Pepper, in 1972. Sold her in 1973. Great dog.”
As we walk across the grounds in the late afternoon, Stewart stops walking for a moment and crosses his arms over his chest, his right hand clutching his elbow. He smiles. You can tell, simply by the look on Stewart’s face: Pepper was a great dog.
Fieldwork Done Right
We walk up to several of the kennels, where the line of penned Labs—without barking—stand and watch, their coats shiny in the shade, their demeanors as tensely optimistic as beauty queens hoping to be picked.
“All our kennels are a little bit round,” Stewart says. “Because nature is rarely in a straight line. Also, they have sand floors. Which is much easier on the dogs’ elbows and other parts of their bodies than concrete floors.”
He introduces me to several dogs, including the black Lab named Deke, who is the Ducks Unlimited mascot and a Wildrose favorite, and others named Indian and Ben, but ends up in front of the one-year-old Aggie’s kennel. Stewart swings open that pen’s door, and the dog walks to the open door and then stands still inside, patiently waiting.