It’s a Journey, Not a Destination

The Wildrose History, Part IV

By Mike Stewart

It has been 23 years since Wildrose joined our Mississippi training facility (est. 1988) and one could only describe these years as being a whirlwind journey. From the beginning, with one full-time and one parttime staff to the expanded footprint of the Wildrose regional training facilities today located across the country, who could have envisioned such an outcome those many years ago?

With the celebration of our 50th Anniversary (est. 1972) this year, we embraced the opportunity to reflect on those exciting and often challenging times through articles in our last three Journals: “The History of Wildrose.”  Obviously, we could only touch briefly on many of the people and opportunities we encountered along our trails but as this is the concluding chapter of the series, we do not want to retire our reminiscing without expressing our gratitude to all those individuals who joined our journey with passion and creativity as well as our supporters who walked this trek with us.

Without talented team members, passionate enablers, contributors, sponsors, and especially loyal, enthusiastic clients, Wildrose would not have risen to the signature we enjoy today.

To our tribe of followers, thank you, Wildrose pack!

The Wildrose Journey Continues

Opportunities arise in the most unexpected ways and can prove to be rewarding if recognized and acted upon. This has been true throughout the history of Wildrose. Several of our more beneficial outcomes occurred as surprising opportunities.

Regionalization

In 2016 Wildrose client, Joe Crafton, approached us with an exciting idea. He was in the process of developing the historic Dallas Hunting and Fishing Club (est. 1885), the oldest sporting club of its type, west of the Mississippi. His suggestion was to place a Wildrose Kennel training facility at that location in conjunction with his vision for developing a sporting community of wing shooting and fishing enthusiasts. The full-service Wildrose facility would be an excellent fit, no doubt.

As many will attest, having a vision is one thing but developing a feasible plan then follow through with the actual execution is quite another. “Good idea, now how will it work?”

After much deliberation, the second opportunity arose. Guy C. Billups expressed interest in becoming a Wildrose affiliate trainer. He was living in Texas and had attended Wildrose events, so he understood our methodology. There it was… the vision, a plan, and the execution opportunity merging all at once. By early 2017, GC and Joe Crafton had construction underway making the Wildrose Texas facility and training grounds a reality. That fall the official, well-attended, grand opening of Wildrose Texas was launched at Collector’s Covey in Dallas. 

Simultaneously, our vision expanded for regionalization to provide enhanced, accessible services in different sections of the country. Each site would be a licensed facility with universal operational standards, each specializing in the Wildrose Way of training and business practices. An oversite company was founded as Wildrose International operated by Cathy and me to coordinate the developing regions assuring a similar client experience at each location while operating in compliance with the Wildrose methodologies. Our goal was to decentralize, yet maintain a one-kennel concept, operating in different locations across the country to better serve our expanding client base.

Our next opportunity came also in 2017 when Wildrose client, Kirk Parker, approached with the desire to open a Wildrose facility in the Raleigh/Durham area, a rapidly growing population area in the Eastern region of the country. The Wildrose presence on the East coast was strong so the location was a perfect fit. Once the property was located, construction of a multi-purpose facility began hosting challenging terrain and beautiful water sources. Shawn Yates joined our staff in Oxford for months of initial training in preparation for meeting the needs of clients at Wildrose Carolinas.

As the kennel developed, so did the need for additional staffing for training, health care and general management. Senior Wildrose trainer, Steven Lucius, with 12 years’ experience, saw the opportunity and expressed a desire to become a co-owner with Kirk at Wildrose Carolinas. His experience and talents have complemented the growth of our Eastern facility.

Wildrose General Manager in Oxford, Tom Smith, who had been with the company since 2014, took command at our third regional kennel, Wildrose Mississippi, in 2019. His years in management with the company allowed for a seamless transition to ownership of the Southern regional site.

Allan Klotsche became an association trainer with Wildrose representing the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area in 2020 and teamed with senior associate trainer, Craig Korff of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Allan’s goal was to lay the foundation for establishing a full-service Wildrose facility for the upper Midwest region.

In 2022, Allan established the area as a licensed site, Wildrose Midwest. He developed some exceptional partnerships to enhance the Wildrose experience for clients offering superb workshops, training services and by developing an excellent training blog. We look forward to further developments in this popular region as Wildrose services expand.

Our two well-established, satellite, training grounds remain active for seasonal services. Wildrose of the Ozarks, Jasper, Arkansas (est. 2003), serves as a winter river training destination and Wildrose Colorado, Granite, Colorado (est. 2009), is our advanced summer training camp for upland and waterfowl retrievers. These regional facilities are seasonally operated by Cathy and me.

The purpose in our vision in expansion through decentralization is simple:  regionalize the Wildrose talents by making our unique services more accessible to our clients and followers across the country.

Enablers

Volunteers, supporters, contributors, and references are each extremely valuable to any company’s brand. Within these groups at the fringe of the benefactors are the enablers. These are the truly dedicated individuals who are embedded in the brand’s culture, people who rise to challenges and make contributions that endure. They are change agents who work for the cause out of passion, commitment, and love of the dogs. Enablers “move the ball.”


Wildrose is fortunate to host several such enablers that have made historic contributions to the Wildrose Way.

Dr. Ben McClelland

As Dr. McClelland was approaching retirement as the Schilling Chair of Writing with the University of Mississippi, English Professor, and former Director of the Ole Miss Writing Institute, he began a volunteer relationship with Wildrose Kennels as a Resident Writer, Apprentice Trainer and as an avid Wildrose enthusiast owning several Wildrose dogs that he raised and trained for hunting as well as companionship. His Wildrose companions would often accompany him as he continued to teach English and writing classes at Ole Miss, much to the delight of his students.

In the spring of 2011 and 2012 he attended the Wildrose DAD conferences, interviewed participants, and participated in the training sessions. In the spring of 2011, he began his background work collecting stories and information about the participants involved with our Diabetic Alert Dog Program. The outcome was his excellent book, Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs published in 2014. The personal narratives of the dozen diabetics, their Wildrose dogs, and their diabetic caregivers are the heart and soul of this book. With all book royalties going to the Wildrose DAD foundation, Ben was instrumental in working to support this Wildrose nonprofit housed with Create Foundation in Tupelo, Mississippi through his writing, coaching and fund-raising efforts.

McClelland also established the online blog/journal that we all enjoy today, and he continues to support the Journal as an editor as well as authoring numerous feature Journal articles over the past decade. Today, with an expanded editorial staff (especially, Danielle Drewrey) the Wildrose Journal is a social media leader in its class with over 23,000 subscribers and a consistent open rate of 40+%. Dr. McClelland continues to donate his time and efforts as the editor of each Wildrose Journal publication. 

Drs. Scott and Roxy Wilson

Scott and his wife, Roxy, bought their first Wildrose dog in 2013 and have since added 4 other Wildrose dogs to their pack. At that time, they were both professors at the University of Illinois. Scott and Roxy eventually retired to Oxford less than 3 miles from Wildrose Kennels. A retired professor and Material Chemistry Lab Director at the University of Illinois, Scott changed his title to Wildrose Service Companions Director becoming an essential volunteer with our Wildrose Service Companion program.

In this role, he set up school visits for our dogs to work in special education classrooms, worked with a local assisted living home in securing a retired mama dog to work with the clients there, visited a boys’ home regularly with his Wildrose dogs to provide therapy, placed dogs with veterans from our military services to assist them with PTSD and he’s currently working with a high school counselor in search of the right dog to assist with the needs of their patients and students. His own dog, Wildrose Roxy, is a registered Volunteer for Baptist Memorial Hospital where she supports the staff as well as the patients.

These are a few of his volunteer efforts coupled with earning his own license through Pet Partners to evaluate and register qualified therapy animal teams seeking to meet stringent criteria to function as a therapy companion team in public areas. Scott and Roxy travel to all our regional facilities offering training and certification assistance with our therapy companion programs. 

The Purina ProPlan Team

Purina ProPlan is the nutrition of choice for Wildrose Kennels, and the company is an important, influential partner of Wildrose. The ProPlan staff has served as a superb consultant, educator, and resource for our staff, and they remain a valued sponsor of Wildrose demonstrations, events and of the training tip series on DUTV. ProPlan products are supported by world-class nutritional research and unequaled quality control in production. We trust the professionals of Purina to deliver excellence food for our dogs providing us also with absolute confidence in recommending their products exclusively to Wildrose clients.

As partners, I cannot say enough as to the contributions the Purina ProPlan team has made in support of the Wildrose experience, from our popular “Starting Your Pup” video series to our Emmy-award winning testimonials they produced as well as the many public appearances we have enjoyed together. Their team of professionals has proven to be valued enablers of the Wildrose Journey.

Nick Stroot (with Wildrose Rosie) won an EMMY for Best Director-Post Production of the Mike Stewart/Wildrose Testimonial.

Special Services

Wildrose has developed several proprietary resources that enhance our services. One is KennelPlus, launched on behalf of Wildrose International in the implementation of the one-kennel concept. The network links each regional location to a consolidated database formatted to create and store individual portfolios for each Wildrose dog produced. According to the American Kennel Club, our network is unique to any kennel facility in the U.S.

Nothing on the market existed to meet our networking needs for sharing records between facilities so Guy Billups and his wife, Kelsey, of Wildrose Texas worked with the KennelPlus Company to build the product. Over the years, the system has been tweaked to meet our specialized record requirements. All records were backdated to 2017 creating portfolios for every puppy delivered.

Each dog’s portfolio documents all relevant data:  registration information, health records, owners’ information, microchip numbers, etc. Once established, other information is added as acquired:  training contracts, evaluations, training tracks, and health records. Most importantly this documentation is retained indefinitely and is accessible by each regional facility. KennelPlus builds a Wildrose dog’s portfolio that follows the dog permanently.

S.E.A.M System

SEAM is the acronym for the Wildrose sporting dog boarding activity program:  Strength, Endurance, Agility, Mental conditioning. On average, dog boarding services provide little structure or activities that are beneficial for sporting dogs in their care, some activities can even be detrimental. The Wildrose SEAM package is different.

Wildrose recognized this problem and problems present opportunities in a market. Guy Billups, Wildrose Texas, drawing upon his experiences with the Rice University athletics physical conditioning program and input from the professionals at Purina, developed a unique activity program for dogs in short-term boarding. The system promotes physical conditioning, mental stimulation while refreshing skills and behaviors important to sporting dogs of any breed. The SEAM System.

Dogs in boarding receive daily structured activities that complement their prior training or behaviors expected afield, on trail or around town. This differs for most boarding facilities that do not reinforce appropriate behaviors or provide beneficial structured, stimulating activities beneficial to the sporting dog. SEAM accomplishes these desirables. The program is open to all sporting breeds at most facilities and available at all sites for Wildrose dogs.

Joining the Pack

Wildrose workshops and events have continued since 2001 to expand offerings for clients and followers interested in the Wildrose Way of training and outdoor sports promoting travel to destinations with their dogs for engagement in learning experiences and activities that are enjoyed by the dog and handler alike. Wildrose activities are client-oriented offering excellent opportunities for participation and building relationships with other Wildrose pack members.

Many of our activities and destinations established over the years remain popular today:  Blitx & Co, Idaho (Driven Picking Up), Blackfly, Bahamas (Adventure Dog- Fishing),  Westervelt, Alabama (Wing shoot/ Picking Up),  Wilson, Arkansas (Quail Hunting),  Little Q, Oxford, Mississippi (Quail Hunting),  Greystone Castle, Texas (Picking Up),  Adventure Dog Rendezvous (various locations),  Basic and Advanced Handlers Workshops, Mississippi,  Wildrose Midwest, Wisconsin (variety of workshops),  Double Gun, Mississippi, (wing shooting),  Zeke’s Dakota Pheasants, North Dakota (Pheasant Hunting).

Engagement

Wildrose hosts a number of social media platforms in addition to our interactive websites at uklabs.com, each designed to engage visitors in the Wildrose culture and activities. These include: 

            Facebook and Instagram accounts for:

                        Wildrose Texas

                        Wildrose Kennels

                        Wildrose Carolinas

                        Wildrose Kennels – Midwest

                        Training the Wildrose Way

                        Wildrose Midwest Training 

            YouTube features on The Wildrose Way

Follow our journey as we share the Wildrose Way through these accessible platforms. Thanks to Katie Behnke (Mississippi), Derek Helms (Texas), and Tennent Rich (Carolinas) for their contributions to these important platforms for our tribe of followers.

The Adventure Continues

The definition of an adventure is not really knowing how it will turn out. The excitement and the enduring memories are discovered in the journey not only in the celebration of the destination. We regard Wildrose as an adventure.

To be sure, there is a vision for Wildrose International and a plan forward, but plans must be flexible in application to seize moments of opportunity. For a business to remain relevant it must be in a constant state of development and recommitment embracing the ideals of continuous improvement to exceed expectations, but while accomplishing this Wildrose will remain committed to holding to the traditions of its heritage brand, 50 years in the making.

A brand once established becomes a promise. As the Wildrose Journey continues, our promise will endure…

The sun never sets on the Wildrose experience.

Mike and Cathy Stewart
Wildrose International
Cathy@uklabs.com

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