By Hunter Cloud
Photos by Joey Brent and Bruce Newman
Wildrose International and Wildrose Mississippi are going strong.
One run only by owner Mike Stewart and a part-time employee, the company now employs more than 30 people.
“I am proud of the success we have had. I always wanted to build something,” Stewart said.
While working in law enforcement in Oxford, he saw a need for a drug-education program in schools. “There was no school program like DARE at the time. I started one,” he said. “I like to build things and turn them over to someone else. I can teach it and turn it over so the legacy continues”
He brings that same philosophy to Wildrose. “I’m proud of the legacy we are building. I know it will perpetuate onward. The company will not die with me. It is all about Wildrose.”
Stewart has been intentional in training others to take over the various facilities and operations. Wildrose Mississippi owner Tom Smith is part of that future for Wildrose. Smith’s experiences with Wildrose began when he purchased his dog, Dixie, in 2008.
By 2012, Smith had sold his construction business and started teaching at Wildrose. He eventually became general manager and purchased the facility in 2019.
“I had dinner with Mike and Cathy about a year into owning Dixie. I asked him what his transition plan was for the company,” Smith said. “We were at his house. They had invited me up for dinner and I just popped the question.”
Smith said Stewart saw his passion for the company, “and it is how he wanted to pass it on. He wanted to give it to someone who lives and breathes it.
Smith’s hope is to continue to bring innovation to the dog-training process while continuing to produce the finest British gun dogs in the country. He wants to pass knowledge to new clients and staff members as he continues the company’s legacy.
“This is a heritage company and we want to continue its legacy until infinity,” Smith said. “It is my job to teach the staff the business side of things. One-hundred percent, there will be a transition one day.”
Smith points to new uses for technology, such as Kennel Plus. The digital filing system allows Wildrose employees to scan a unique code for each dog and it brings up information including training records and health records. It is accessible from any of Wildrose’s locations.
“The Kennel Club’s Authority to Compete officials come and inspect us each year. The man was amazed we had something like Kennel Plus,” Smith said. “He thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.”
Dog trainer Blake Henderson has been with Wildrose Mississippi for the last 16 years. Having spent half his life at Wildrose, he said he went to school at Ole Miss and earned a degree. His mom asked him if he was ever going to get a different job and his answer was no.
“The objective is to keep going uphill. To keep climbing,” Henderson said. “We are always trying to figure out something new and trying to figure out how to be above everyone else. We want to achieve it. Everyday is different. It is fun. I get to play and get paid at the same time.”