Wildrose Kayla

by Dan McMackin

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Wildrose Kayla, my family’s dog of nearly 12 years, , recently passed away. The whole family grieved. Neighbors and co-workers sent sympathy cards. I’ve received dozens of emails from people who got to know her, mostly through hunting or competing. I’m still struggling mightily with her passing.


Kayla and I had a unique bond. We spent thousands of hours together training for retrieving competitions and hunting. We picked up birds and ran flush hunts at plantations and hunting preserves across the Southeast. We stayed together at hotels and motels, and drove thousands of miles together.


Because of Wildrose, I’ve become a student of animal behavior. I read all that I can about dogs and horses and their training. Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, in her excellent book, “The Other End of the Leash,” wrote that she loved her own dogs so much that it hurt. I can relate.


Kayla cried whenever I left the house without her. My wife said that she would pout until I came home, waiting at the top of the stairs where she could see my car pulling in. She would  pirouette whenever I asked, “Go for a walk?” Kayla would curl up below my shower door, my clothes closet – wherever I was, hoping  I wouldn’t leave without her.


I suppose Wildrose clients are  a separate class of pet owners because of their intense  love and admiration for  their animals. I may be in an upper percentile of that group.


Kayla sort of crawled up inside my heart. She had drive and confidence that she got from her dad, Bob. He was Mike Stewart’s only dog to win the International Field Trial Championship in Ireland several years ago.


Kayla took after Bob in several ways. She, like many Wildrose dogs, had a superlative nose. While on flush hunts, it wasn’t uncommon for her to find a dozen or more birds wounded or missed by previous hunters.


She could run a “frozen rope” over 200 yards on blind retrieves. In her prime, she was a marking machine. She was as good in a pheasant field as she was in a duck slough. As a game conservation tool, she was in a special class. After an amazing day of quail hunting, one of the hunters asked me if he could buy Kayla. I told him I was flattered but that she wasn’t for sale. He told me he would leave a blank check on the console of my SUV. Kayla was that good.


Like other Wildrose dogs I’ve met, Kayla was a proud animal. She carried herself with a regal air, and at the same time had a sweetness about her that was very endearing.


She also had a deep, almost insatiable curiosity. She was intrigued by new experiences, places and people.


But most of all she loved me. I used to take her in a shopping cart through the aisles of Home Depot. On one visit I walked away from the cart to talk with a clerk. A few seconds later a woman approached me and said, “Sir, your dog LOVES you!” I looked back and saw Kayla craning her neck  keep me in her eye-sight.


I think her goal was never to  let me out of her sight. In fact, she never ran away when off lead. She always wanted to be with me – to train, hunt, or visit the tailor lady (treats behind the counter), the dry cleaners or anywhere I was going.


How can a person not love an animal that’s so curious and engaged in everyday life? Heck, she was more interesting than most people I know.


Kayla also was a joyous creature. Her tail almost never stopped wagging. After a set of x-rays once, the vet told me she had some early arthritis at the base of her tail – from wagging it so much. A judge at a hunt test said to me, “Sir, you get bonus points for having the happiest dog in the world. She wagged her tail for all three marks and the blind.”


Neighbors would risk  accidents when they drove  past the pond where we trained, hitting the brakes  to see her  swim and take my casts. One woman would sit on her porch just to watch Kayla wag her tail while she swam. At a recent dove hunt she picked up 30 birds for a group of hunters, while, unbeknownst to me, she was deathly ill with hepatitis. And her tail never stopped wagging. That’s not just drive, or “birdieness,” that’s desire, God-given, Wildrose-bred desire.


Kayla and I picked up over a thousand birds a year. We became preferred “picker-uppers” at several preserves around Atlanta. She even got fan mail from one well-heeled client at a local plantation for her work at their dove hunts.


It’s fascinating to me that we can bond so closely with an animal that descended from wolves – a pair of wolves that took the risk of stepping inside the ring of human activity. Maybe it was for food, or maybe for simple contact with people.


Kayla had that intense desire for closeness.  That’s a gift, isn’t it? With all the bad news in the world today, to have a joyous little partner to spend time with who asks for nothing more than to have her belly rubbed. I’m dropping tears on my keyboard as I write this. I love you little girl and I miss you. I’ll always miss you.

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16 Responses to Wildrose Kayla

  1. Donna Greenwood says:

    So sorry to hear about your beloved Kayla. There is no easy way to let our best friends go. it is apparent in your beautiful tribute to her that your connection and love for each other was deep. Wildrose dogs have a way of doing that to us. May the day come that you think of her and smile with fond memories. in the meantime accept the pain as a side effect of great love.

  2. george begakis says:

    Sorry for your loss of Kayla. Your letter it touch me so much ,My dog Mary is form Bob , half sister of Kayla and her characteristics is so much a like. Rest in peace Kayla.

  3. Jim Hamlin says:

    We lost our Wildrose Orca this past August after 13 1/2 wonderful years. Your tribute to Kayla is awesome and I feel the same way about our Orca. Wildrose labs are not just world class retrievers, they are world class pets and loved members of the household. Rest in peace Kayla and Orca.

  4. Michael Clemmons says:

    Beautiful tribute, Dan. Thank you very much for sharing that with us.

  5. John Carlson says:

    I’m very sorry Dan to hear of your loss. Kayla was a great dog and it was always a pleasure to watch her work.

  6. Rachel Vest says:

    Your tribute to Kayla could only come from one who has shared the “heart” of a devoted dog!! Thank you so very much for this stirring tribute as to how excellent breeding and training can bring such pleasure and happiness to the humans that are fortunate enough to find a dog like Kayla !!

  7. etowahvalley says:

    Dan- There is no better tribute to a Great Dog and her best Friend than what I have just read.
    The forces are so strong, joy with the pup and sorrow with the loss of a once in a lifetime Dog.
    The many times I saw Kayla in your car and out on the lawn, I thought the relationship would never end. She will be missed
    All the best- Richard, Alex, Mike, Luke, Keith, and all Folks at Etowah Valley Game Preserve

  8. Frankie Sorrell says:

    So sorry about the lost of Kayla. Your bond and and love for her was special. I appreciate your reading because I understand the love you have for her. I have a black lab name Jake that loves me and is my best friend. If only people could love like a lab, we would have heaven on earth.

  9. Ed says:

    Love your story about Kayla. Reared up when I read. I too have a Wildrose Jake, retrieved 100’s of birds mostly ducks, field trial champion. Now 9 white around the muzzle has a lot of heart and he to never stops wagging his tail, many compliments from professional guides about Jake’s blind retrieves, diving underwater for a diving duck.
    Jake is getting old but still have a few years with him but know the time will come.
    Thanks for your story.

  10. Ed Mcgurk says:

    Loved your comments about Kayla,what a Dog.
    I too have a Wildrose Jake, many memories in the field and trials.
    Jake is 9 your comments made me realize may only have a few more years.

  11. Samantha Matthews says:

    So sorry Dan. You were so blessed to have each other! You wrote a heart felt tribute!

  12. Peter Merzian says:

    Dan, so sorry to hear of your loss. My companion, Wildrose Keegan, left us January, 19, 2015 after 12.5 years of much of what you described of your Kayla. Keegan and Kayla shared the same father so I can certainly relate to your description of Kayla’s disposition. I miss Keegan every single day and I am so thankful that we shared our lives together.

    A great friend of mine sent the following to me:
    Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

    When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
    There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
    There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

    All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
    The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

    They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

    You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

    Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

    Take care,
    Peter Merzian

  13. Christian (Gene) Costanza says:

    Thanks for this account of an exceptional dog. It must have hurt to write it.

  14. jody marler says:

    I definitely feel your pain and love of and for your dog. My wife and I have shared the same experiences with our Wildrose lab and now living with two more of them. It was hard to move on and we think of Annie often but they are all so different, when you think you might not feel that love again a little puppy comes along and it starts all over.
    We made this tribute to help ease our pain and hope it eases for you as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgZGHp8xt2A

  15. Don schwebel says:

    Sorry for your loss, they can never be replaced. I lost my black lab named Shaddow last year. She also stayed by my side. I would tell her to go be a dog and she would run about 20 feet and stop and come right back to my side. She was also 12 and died of cancer. I think of her each and everyday. My only dream is for you and I that they will be waiting for us on Rainboo Bridge. I believe that God will have them there. This is how I have gotten through the days without her. That we will see them again.

    • Donna Greenwood says:

      There is nothing in the world like the loyalty and love of a Wildrose lab. My heart goes out to you as I know what their companionship and unconditional love means.

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