I have attended a half dozen puppy pickin’ sessions recently. This blog— the first in a series—describes one session. Each one has a similar routine, but each is also unique because of the various folks who attend and the pups they pick. I invite you to add a comment to this blog, telling us when you picked your pup, what your experience was like, and how you and your pup are doing.
Lasting relationships between people and their working dogs begin here in the Piney Hills of northwestern Mississippi, eighty-five miles southeast of Memphis, Tennessee. This is Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, his “little postage stamp of native soil.” In fact, Faulkner, who wrote the memorable hunting tale, “The Bear,” hunted Yockna River bottom rabbits, swampers, just a few miles to the south. He and his hunting buddies ran gundogs in the woods and the upland meadows of these ridges and hollows that undulate into the horizon like deep, ocean swells. Mr. Bill also fished in nearby Enid and Sardis Lakes, as well as in the Tallahatchie River the county’s northern border. Even though his fictional county’s real name is Lafayette—after the renowned Revolution-era French general who trafficked here—nearby counties carry tribal names: Chickasaw, Itawamba, Pontotoc, Tallahatchie, Yalobusha. Area mounds reveal ancient inhabitants that antedated by thousands of years the native tribes that inhabited the region when DeSoto ventured this far north. Place names reveal old Indian settlements, as well as famous battles of the Civil War. In nearby Oxford and on the Ole Miss campus monuments memorialize our civil rights struggle.
However, despite old stereotypes, Mississippi is not still burning. Quite the contrary. Through both its process and its product Wildrose Kennels embodies the best of the New South. Wildrose President, Mike Stewart, a man steeped in this region’s hunting traditions, combines an old-fashioned work ethic with a progressive entrepreneurial vision to compete effectively in today’s global marketplace.
Thus, the ride along Springdale Road nowadays to Mississippi’s Wildrose Kennels carries us into a uniquely modern culture. Wildrose integrates advanced genetic practices with a pure breed of Old World dogs and distills the psychology of imprinting with ages-old training traditions to produce intelligent, easy-to-handle Labrador dogs. Wildrose Labs are loyal companions with exceptional skills for retrieving, for adventuring, or for alerting. Visitors to Wildrose may hear versions of Southern drawl, but international elite dog is the dialect spoken here.
Several times a year visitors arrive to pick up their Wildrose pups, traveling from every state in the union and from many places around the globe. On this fall morning folks drive along the curvy lane through stands of deep green pine punctuated with mixed hardwoods, their leaves tinted red and yellow. Breaking out into cropland bottoms, the visitors see bare fields, fully harvested this dry fall. Mostly soybeans. An empty cotton wagon stands rusting at the edge of a field, a mute witness to the long gone days of King Cotton.
Eager owners-to-be drive through Wildrose’s stone entrance—flagstone pillars encasing the now-familiar Wildrose logo—to pick up seven-week-old Labs and to participate in an informational session that will introduce them to dog care and handling—the Wildrose Way.
At 8:30 on this late fall morning the sun rises in its distant southern orbit over the clearest of blue skies as vehicles wind around the long kennel driveway. Spokes of light slant through trees, brightening the Wildrose logo at the entrance and the buildings by the main parking lot, which is filling with pickup trucks, SUVs, and hybrids. License plates are from neighboring states. Travelers from New Jersey, Texas, and other far off places flew into Memphis International Airport and arrived here in rental cars.
As Mike and Cathy Stewart and their staff members—Steven, Blake, Miles, Mary Lee, and others—greet the arriving dog enthusiasts, there is a festive spirit spiked with eager anticipation. With a cacophony of dog barks resounding in this nook of country everyone’s excitement builds. This is the new beginning. That long-awaited date on the calendar is now.
Dark-haired Cathy, her round-cheeks blushed by the morning air, is holding a clipboard and writing important notes on owners’ documents, as she chats with them, smiling and occasionally breaking into an infectious giggle. Gathering around Mike for the day’s first event, the kennel tour, everyone is zipped into light parkas against the brisk chill. Kindly, someone might describe Mike as tall, tanned, and svelte. Truth is, he’s rail thin. He walks off every bit of body fat in daily training sessions. The only time that he gains weight is when he travels on business to Ireland, where they serve ale, steaks, and three kinds of potato sides each night. He feels obliged to eat some of each.
Behind the scenes Lanette Drewrey, the vet technician, and her crew are completing the health checks on each pup, bathing and grooming them. She is loading her equipment bag with the essentials for inserting the pups’ identification microchips shortly after the owners select them.
This is the conclusion of Part One. Please add a comment below to tell us about your visit to Wildrose. Later, I’ll continue with more parts of the puppy pickin’ blog. I will also add a slideshow below, presenting some pictures from puppy pickin’ sessions.