Wildrose Goes to College

By Dr. Ben McClelland 
with Erin O’Reilly and Tom Smith
Graphic Design by Danielle Drewrey

Wildrose has done it again. 

This fall, as the company celebrates the fiftieth year of a decorated and innovative history, Wildrose has pushed the envelope again. 

Five Wildrose dogs are beginning their freshman year as Ole Miss Rebels, joining the largest freshman class in the flagship school’s history. 

As students moved in to begin the fall semester of the 2022-23 school year, five Wildrose dogs prepared for significant public roles on campus. Following a uniquely designed dual-track training regimen, each dog serves as a family companion and a community servant. 

Juice, Manning, Connor, Magnolia, and Briar belong to Ole Miss staff families and have been training for their upcoming roles as family companions, facility residents, service dogs, and public figures at college.

These dogs’ performances have been eagerly anticipated. And success in their public roles is dependent on their formal training and their human relationships at home. Many necessary ingredients for success are already in the DNA of these specially bred British Labradors: even temperament, willingness to please, drive, and eagerness to do a job. However, to accomplish their goals the dogs’ owners have teamed up with Wildrose trainers to establish essential obedience and skills. In a series of articles we will introduce you to each dog and discuss its roles and its training path, including information provided by Wildrose trainers and by the dogs’ families. Juice and Manning are featured in this article.

Wildrose Juice

A newcomer has become the most popular figure on the Ole Miss campus. We’re not talking Joe College here. We’re talking Icon Status. Cult Hero.

Who is this phenom? It’s Juice. 

A six-month-old, yellow, Wildrose Labrador, named Juice (Danny x Amber), has skyrocketed at warp speed on social media. At last count Juice (@JuiceKiffin) has 26,500 followers on Twitter and continues to gain admirers with each tweet. Juice’s Twitter account lists him as the “Unofficial @Olemissfb mascot,” and his tweets have been appearing daily since midsummer when the pup arrived at his Oxford home.

Juice’s hilarious daily tweets are spoken from the point of view of a child in the Kiffin family. Yes, Juice’s “dad” is Ole Miss Head Football Coach Lane Kiffin. In his third year leading the Rebels, Kiffin is known not only as a keen quarterback whisperer and a brilliant football tactician, but also as a savvy maneuverer of public opinion and as a prescient diviner of the changing landscape of college football. 

In early August a local sports reporter narrated an incident between Juice and Kiffin that reveals how the dog and his owner are capturing sports fans’ attention on social media. Here’s a snippet of Nick Suss’ article, entitled “How Juice the dog has become the face of Ole Miss football, and a metaphor for Lane Kiffin’s journey:”

Their growing relationship is obvious. During a water break at Monday’s practice, Juice was let off his leash. He darted around, looking for water and attention, until he heard a whistle. Then, with the instincts of a running back breaking free past the secondary, he made a beeline for Kiffin nearly 40 yards away.

He ran into Kiffin’s outstretched arms. Kiffin told Juice to sit. It took two tries, but the dog listened. That’s a week of obedience training at work.

The saga was captured on Juice’s GoPro and posted to his Twitter account. Within 90 minutes of going live, the video had been watched more than 15,000 times. By comparison, a 35-second video of highlights from the first day of practice posted to the Ole Miss football Twitter account only attracted 14,000 views in a week.

It might sound weird or unconventional or flat-out silly, but a puppy is establishing himself as the Rebels’ most marketable star [bold emphasis added].

The Rebels’ other players are just rolling with it.

“I think here, in our culture, it’s not weird,” defensive end Jared Ivey said. “That’s just us” (Suss).

One month later Juice retweeted a fan’s post of a picture of the business sign at an Oxford formal wear store, Thomas Bros., which proclaimed, “JUICE KIFFIN IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL” (@mikefitz71, Sep 8). Juice tweeted, “Do you make bow ties for dogs?” Dozens of replies humorously responded to Juice’s question, including one that said, “If they didn’t, they do now.” Joining in on the Juice craze, the McDonald’s restaurant on University Avenue in Oxford emblazoned “Juice is my MASCOT” in red and blue lights atop its sign under the golden arches. Oxford Wine & Spirits, located on College Hill Road, has a sandwich board that often features timely quips for the college crowd. Currently, the sign on one side congratulates the Rebel Baseball Team on being National Champions. The other side says, “Free belly rubs! Sorry, Juice Kiffin only.” 

Further evidence of Juice’s popular appeal came when the Ole Miss University Development office turned to Juice to head up its fundraiser known as “Name a Grove Squirrel.” To promote this year’s charity project Juice sent a picture-filled letter to the Ole Miss community, explaining what he loves most about Ole Miss, including running around the Grove chasing a squirrel, which he calls his friend, Dennis the Grove Squirrel. Then, Juice calls on Ole Miss folks to make a charitable gift and name a Grove squirrel. Donors will receive a digital certificate with their squirrel’s name. 

The steady stream of Juice tweets continues during the current football season. In a series of tweets with clever jokes Juice introduces each team on next year’s schedule. He also encourages fans to stay in the stands during the entire games, even in hot weather, showing his RealTree cooling vest with the new WAV3, “Blue Ice,” design and saying, “Dad said he wants people to stay for the entire game this Saturday so I went and got this cooling vest for me Thanks @Realtree.” At that week’s game Kiffin instantly popularized a lightweight “Blue Ice” hoodie, made through a special arrangement with RealTree, the famous hunting camouflage company with whom Ole Miss Athletics has a special relationship. Bill Jordan, the company’s founder and a receiver on teams with Archie Manning, was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame, and, along with his son, Tyler, has forged a continuing relationship with the University.

To understand this public relations coup by a dog and its owner, requires some backstory of both Kiffin and Juice. Let’s look first at Kiffin and then at Juice and his Wildrose training.

In late 2019 when Lane Kiffin arrived as Ole Miss’s thirty-ninth head football coach, he began transforming its football brand on and off the field. Kiffin also jumped to the top of Twitter users among college football coaches, usually poking fun at his many friends and acquaintances, including his former boss Nick Saban, and trolling other fan bases, such as the University of Tennessee. Quickly, Kiffin became notorious online. Dubbed Twitter King, he has over 562,000 followers.

Kiffin’s popularity has continued trending upward with every football game and every PR victory. Ever the fashion maven, Kiffin often arrives at the Ole Miss Grove for the traditional, pre-game Walk of Champions attired in the hippest trend-setting fashion with his light brown hair neatly coiffed and wearing a tight-fitting (often striped) powder blue suit, accented with a bowtie and specially-designed, “statement” sneakers. 

Following last year’s historic ten-game-win season—and losing many players to graduation and the NFL draft—Kiffin employed his characteristic moxie by launching into a remake of his football team this past off-season, acquiring numerous (as in about 20) high-quality transfer players through the recent portal transfer system. Using uncanny player analysis, Kiffin and his staff moved to reload—not rebuild—team status, garnering the country’s second-highest rated portal transfer class.

In the midst of this flurry of professional activity, Kiffin also made significant, if less noted, personal lifestyle changes that included re-engaging with his spiritual faith, including attending a local church and holding staff Bible studies. To revitalize his physical health, Kiffin began with a ten-day dietary cleanse, including eliminating alcohol use. He’s going on twenty months now without drinking. Kiffin also switched from being a night owl to a morning person, exercising regularly. The results are observable from Kiffin’s svelte appearance to his calmer demeanor and more openness to sharing and caring. Some of his early morning posts carry inspirational or motivational messages and Kiffin acknowledged that his position offers the opportunity to effect positive benefit: “Maybe there’s somebody out there that needs some motivation and going through some stuff. The ability to use the platform as a head coach, on Twitter with that many people is really valuable” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 15, 2022.).

In the summer Kiffin’s daughter, Landry, came to live with him and enrolled as a senior at Oxford High School. An attentive father, Lane is enjoying family time, as he reported that he joined a chat group with “Landry’s five girlfriends. We have a Sunday ‘Modern Family’ movie night. They named me ‘Sparky’ because they say when it’s my pick, I always pick Nicholas Sparks movies.” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 15, 2022). By the way, Landry recently announced her intention to enroll at Ole Miss next fall. 

Back in midsummer when Landry arrived in Oxford, she told her dad that she’d like to get a dog.

Enter Juice.

Kiffin’s search for a pup eventually led to a phone call with Tom Smith, president of Wildrose Mississippi. In mid-July Juice joined the Kiffin family as the teenage daughter’s fun playmate, but as time went on caring for Juice went by default to dad. So, Kiffin brought Juice to work with him at the athletic department offices and at the football practice fields. In no time Juice, the “Unofficial @Olemissfb mascot,” was tweeting out his new fun activities with dad, with players, and with recruits.

On the last weekend in July Rebel football held its biggest recruiting weekend and headlined it “Juice Fest 2022” on social media. And who was center stage? Yep. The pup. Kiffin and Juice tweeted jokes, pictures, and videos of the weekend scene when the Rebels’ largest group of high-value recruits mingled with each other, current players, coaches—and Juice. The event was a huge success for the football program and it spotlighted Juice so much that ESPN sent a College Gameday crew to Oxford to tape a segment (on campus and at Wildrose Kennels) for future TV broadcast this season.

There has been a good deal of media speculation about how Juice’s role as a tool for Ole Miss football recruiting came about. Kiffin says that it was not planned, but just happened. “I know a lot of things in my career seem like they’re planned. This was not,” Kiffin said. “It looks pretty brilliant, actually, using a dog as a recruiting tool. College Gameday was already here for a special on it, (Juice) has his Twitter, Juicefest and all this. This was just my daughter wanting a dog” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 3, 2022).

Just like Kiffin’s daughter, everyone loves Juice, but a dog that’s moved from the family room to social media fame, plus leading a public life in complex, varied environments needs some formal training—especially when those environments include the loud, orchestrated, and sometimes-raucously-chaotic crowd scenes of the Rebels’ Walk of Champions, the Grove pre-game tailgating, and game time sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. 

So Kiffin and Smith developed a training program for Juice that includes daily trips to Wildrose Kennels. Juice’s training regimen began with what Wildrose folks call “backgrounding.” Known as “core fundamental behaviors,” these activities include housebreaking, place and crate training, eye contact, sit, early retrieving, heeling, and lead work (Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training 64-68 ff.). Over time, Smith will work Juice through the Gundog training program, as Kiffin plans to hunt with him.

Smith has been essential in handling Juice, especially transitioning him from training activities to gameday activities on campus where Smith is responsible for handling Juice throughout the day. Smith, who is now a member of the athletic staff, has also worked with other athletic staff members and with Kiffin’s son, Knox, enabling them to handle Juice, just as Knox did at the Walk of Champions at Ole Miss’ first home game of this fall’s season. 

Kiffin is just as keenly analytical about Juice’s training as he his about that of his football players. One of Kiffin’s challenges this fall, he noted, has been acclimating nearly twenty transfer players to Rebel team culture and expectations, getting new players to “buy in” to and perform well their team roles and responsibilities. After Smith and Kiffin discussed the necessity of having Juice engaged with group training at Wildrose Kennels, Kiffin made a shrewd analogy: “Meeting with (Wildrose) about it I was like, ‘There’s so much similarities here to buying in and bringing people into culture. Because we’re bringing him in and all the sudden he’s around all these other dogs and how well they’re trained has a lot to do with the training of him and him not being distracted by all the other things. . . I was like, ‘You guys are going through the same thing we’re going through.’ When you bring people into an organization, transfer in. Like getting them to buy in. Here’s a puppy he’s taking over with all these other dogs that have been trained the whole time and Juice ain’t listening to what he’s supposed to be doing. I kind of feel like that’s some of our transfers right now” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 3, 2022).

Fortunately, for Kiffin the training practices have worked well for both his players and for his dog. The Rebels have been highly successful in executing plays in their first football games thus far this season and so has Juice.

Behind the scenes Smith has been troubleshooting special challenges that have arisen each gameday. For example, when the Rebel players emerge from the tunnel onto the field prior to a game, sparkling fireworks blast into the air. At the first game, Juice was spooked by the sudden booms and blasts. For the second game Smith fitted Juice’s ears with sound protectors. Also, in the Grove enthusiastic fans swarmed Juice wherever he walked. When he finally emerged from the fan flurry, covered in lipstick kisses, he was a bit overstressed. So troubleshooting again, Smith is looking to keep Juice stationed someplace where fans can greet him and take selfies, but not overwhelm the young star.

More challenges await Kiffin and Smith as they look to the future with Juice. For one thing, Juice has been on Twitter touting, “I’m undefeated in my lifetime” (@JuiceKiffin, Sep 11). In the tweet he asks to attend all games, home and away. Early in gameweek for the road game with Georgia Tech in Atlanta, @JuiceKiffin posted pictures of himself, comfortably lying in a new powder blue crate. Juice tweets his appreciation and masterfully sends a message to his master: “Thanks @Gunner_Kennels for the new digs. Hey @Lane_Kiffin this crate is FAA approved. Just sayin #AirJuice” (@JuiceKiffin, Sep 13). Any Wildrose pack member knows that travel to another venue presents potential unforeseeable issues for a young dog. So, Kiffin and Smith have to continue to prepare for managing Juice’s next celebrity appearances, wherever they may be. For now Smith and Kiffin have agreed that Juice will stay with Smith on away-game weekends. During the Rebels’ first away game, against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Juice joined the celebrants in Oxford at Wildrose’s 50thAnniversary Gala, where he was treated royally. Nevertheless, Juice continues pressing his case on Twitter.  

Juice’s appearances in public and on the media increased during the fall football season. Homecoming Week brought a flurry of appearances: On Thursday Smith and Juice visited the Willie Price pre-school on campus, where they were greeted by about 40 preschoolers who were giddy with excitement to meet Wildrose Juice. The energy from the students, however, didn’t even come close to that of the teachers and assistants who also wanted to meet the one and only JUICE. A banner stretched across a wall and everyone wore custom-made Juice stickers. The students asked questions nonstop and, most importantly, made pictures to document the meet-and-greet, celebrity-like event. 

Juice was also featured in a major social media campaign that week—the reveal of the Homecoming game uniform, dubbed “Hunting Season,” in an Ole Miss Football video tweet with Juice and player Jonathon Mingo showing off the team’s “Blue Ice” camo. Juice is wearing a kerchief and Mingo a helmet with the new WAV3 design.

On Friday night Juice was flying high in the University’s Homecoming Parade, and on Saturday, in addition to participating in the Walk of Champions, he appeared on the nationally televised Gameday show. Then, he attended the Football game against Kentucky. 

Juice’s story is ongoing and we’ll eagerly follow it, wishing the best to him, his dad, and the Rebel football team. As we do so, it may be useful to heed the words of a revered former coach. John Wooden, who coached a lot of successful athletes, observed, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful” (John Wooden).

Wildrose Manning

Kirk and Keilly Purdom

Kirk Purdom, the CEO of the University of Mississippi’s Alumni Affairs since 2016, is a well-known and confident leader in the Ole Miss community. A 1993 UM graduate, Purdom played baseball for the Rebels and worked for several departments on campus from 1994 to 2001, including two years with the Alumni Association. His wife, Keilly, (BBA 91), also played golf for the Rebels and served as head women’s golf coach from 1991 to 2001. (Jim Urbanek, University of Mississippi News).

Purdom is quietly pioneering a versatile role for his handsome, black Labrador Retriever, Wildrose Manning, as a companion and therapy dog for his family and even more for the Ole Miss community. In an interview Purdom told the story of getting Manning and he set forth his vision of what’s ahead for this special dog, serving as the Official Dog of the Ole Miss Alumni Association and attending all campus events that they sponsor. Media outreach is a staple of the Alumni Affairs’ operation and it was natural to establish social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for Manning, promoting his involvement in the campus community. Pictures and tweets of the fun-loving dog enjoying campus life appear regularly (@Manning_OMAA).

 Manning’s life with the Purdoms has its roots in the family’s need for medical assistance. Last year when their high-school-senior daughter, Kara Beth, played volleyball, she experienced lightheadedness and fainting spells during play, due to a condition called “PoTS,” postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (NIH). Purdom discussed this situation with Wildrose’s Cathy Stewart, who—over a decade ago—established and found funding for Wildrose’s Service Dog Program. 

Stewart told Purdom, “Our dogs work well as therapy companions.  We are equipped to teach the dogs basic obedience and expose them to public situations ensuring that their basic obedience is intact when in public with distractions.  Other therapy work may require specialized training that we are not equipped to provide.  However, often if the dog and person in need bond well and are together 24/7, the dogs can often read their handlers and alert to unusual behaviors.” Stewart also cautioned Purdom that young people are not always interested in having a dog with them 24/7, nor do they want to be labeled as “the girl with the dog” (Cathy Stewart). The Purdoms then visited Wildrose Kennels and met with Senior Trainer Erin O’Reilly, who further explained training the Wildrose Way. After placing a deposit for a pup, the Purdoms were then able to return and pick up a Mattis-Cassie pup.

Last fall, the Purdoms took Manning to their Oxford home and found in their budding relationship the delights of companionship and the security of a medical assistant. Manning sat at the sidelines of Kara’s volleyball matches, calmly and intently focusing on her every move. 

Manning also focused on Purdom. Once, when they were in their yard, Manning began jumping up and barking at Purdom, just moments before Purdom experienced a seizure. Needless to say, the Purdoms’ bonding with and confidence in Manning is solid. With Manning they had the experience of other families using Wildrose dogs for medical assistance, as documented in a book entitled Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs.

The Purdoms are experienced pet owners. Their home already included two Bernese Mountain dogs, a Border Collie, and a Cockapoo. All their dogs’ names follow Ole Miss themes, so Manning’s name came naturally, just as he fit in easily with the dog-loving family. Yet, the Purdoms saw that Manning was set apart in his role and they recognized his keen intelligence in performing it. They also realized that he needed formal training to achieve the goals they had set out for him.

So, when Manning was seven months old, the Purdoms took him back to Wildrose, where O’Reilly worked with him for several months to prepare him for his family and campus roles. O’Reilly established an individual training plan for Manning, reaffirming “core fundamental behaviors,” including housebreaking, place and crate training, eye contact, sit, early retrieving, heeling, and lead work (Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training 64-68 ff.). O’Reilly worked especially for place training, steadiness, eye contact, and response to handler commands.

Kara, now a freshman at Ole Miss, has been engaged with Manning since he first arrived at their home as a pup. When he was involved with his training program at Wildrose, Kara visited Manning and O’Reilly and handled him during puppy training classes. Purdom says that while all of the family members work well with Manning, it’s obvious from Manning’s reactions that he is Kara’s dog, even as she prefers that Manning live at home and not on campus with her. Manning’s expanded campus role flows from this decision. 

Purdom acknowledges that O’Reilly not only trained Manning, but she schooled him, Keilly, and Kara as handlers, enabling them to carry forward with confidence Manning’s acquired skills and sound obedience so that he can focus on his role. On trips to campus O’Reilly oriented Manning to the Ole Miss Alumni Affairs building and encouraged all employees to help Manning get settled into his job there. Purdom and O’Reilly toured Manning around campus in a motorized cart, working to find the optimal way for him to ride. Afterwards, Manning settled on place in Purdom’s office and stayed there for several hours until it was time to return to the kennel. Furthermore, O’Reilly later took Manning to campus to meet with the Purdoms for the Sorority Bid Day on campus, his first exposure to a crowd of 2,000 excited, cheering students in the Pavilion. He also accompanied O’Reilly and the Purdoms to the subsequent Sorority Row activities. O’Reilly reported that Manning was solid and steady in the midst of all the loud, celebratory events. 

Manning left Wildrose Kennels and rejoined the Purdom family prior to school’s season-opening football game. On Gameday for the first two football weekends, O’Reilly joined the Purdoms on campus to assist in handling Manning for the festivities, including this fall’s pre-game Member Zone in the Alumni Center’s front lawn, as well as the Grove tailgating activities and football games, where Manning has watched the gridiron action from the Vaught-Hemingway stadium’s Rebel Club along with Purdom, his wife, Keilly, and O’Reilly. O’Reilly reported that Manning also performed like a pro during these events, noting that Manning’s temperament suits him well for his role. Because he has high drive and is confident, Manning isn’t a bit cowed in facing new scenes and groups of people. Hopes are high and well founded in anticipating that Manning will continue to represent Ole Miss well at public events for Ole Miss alums.

On weekdays Purdom has been bringing Manning to the offices at the Triplett Center as a resident facility dog with multiple roles. Throughout the school year Purdom intends for Manning to interact with students as a therapy dog, comforting them and lessening their stress during pressure times during semester, such as mid-term and final examination periods. Purdom wants to draw more students to the Alumni building and is eager to see Manning interact with them. Most everyone is generally aware that there are positive health benefits from a friendly dog visit, but here are the specific health benefits, as documented in scientific studies: a 63% reduction in blood pressure; 3% slower breathing rate; 22% drop in pain severity; 19% boost in energy; 48% decrease in depression; 64% drop in feelings of anger; and 39% decrease in pain (Nagengast, Coakley, and Mahonel). So, Purdom’s aim for Manning’s role with Ole Miss students is a worthy goal. Furthermore, as seen in his attention to Kara and Purdom, Manning is keenly focused on the wellbeing of people he’s with. This augurs well for his upcoming role as a companion to students who visit the Triplett Center this year, looking for some affection and release from school stress. 

Notes for Juice Article

Jake Thompson, “What does Juice Kiffin and fall camp have in common? Allow Lane

Kiffin to explain.” Ole Miss Spirit, On3, https://www.on3.com. Online forum.

John Wooden, sayingspoint.com.

Juice (@JuiceKiffin) retweet of @mikefitz71, on September 9, 2022.

Juice (@JuiceKiffin), “I’m undefeated in my lifetime,” on September 11, 2022.

Juice (@JuiceKiffin), “Thanks @Gunner_Kennels for the new digs. Hey @Lane_Kiffin this crate is FAA approved. Just sayin #AirJuice” (@JuiceKiffin, Sep 13).

Juice. Email, September 20, 2022. “Name a Grove Squirrell.”

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conferences, August 3, 2022; August 15, 2022. 

Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way. New York:

Universe Publishing, 2012.

Nick Suss, “How Juice the dog has become the face of Ole Miss football, and a metaphor

for Lane Kiffin’s journey.”Mississippi Clarion Ledger, August 10, 2022.

Trey Wallace, “Hot Yoga, Church, and Nicholas Sparks? Lane Kiffin enters a New

Chapter at Ole Miss.” Outkick 360, August 16, 2022.

Bill Jordan, https://www.realtree.com/bill-jordan.

Notes for Manning Article

Ben McClelland (ed.). Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Wildrose

Diabetic Alert Dogs. Virginia Beach, VA: Koehlerbooks, 2014.

Cathy Stewart, Email. August 29, 2022.

Jim Urbanek. “UM Names Kirk Purdom Executive Director of Alumni Affairs,” Ole

Miss, University of Mississippi News, February 10, 2016.

Kirk Purdom, Personal Interview. Oxford, MS, August 19, 2022.

Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way. New York:

Universe Publishing, 2012.

Nagengast SL: The Effects of the presence of a companion animal on psychological

arousal and behavioral distress in children during aphysical examination. Journal  

of Pediatric Nursing 19976. Coakley A, Mahonel E; Creating a therapeutic and     

healing environment with a pet therapy program. Therapeutic Clinical Practice.

2009,15930,141-145.

 

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