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Stewart inducted into Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame

Mike Stewart, founder and president of Oxford’s Wildrose Kennels, was announced as one of six inductees to the Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame this past week.

Wildrose Kennels is North America’s largest breeder and trainer of imported British Labrador Retrievers. What distinguishes Wildrose from similar operations, Stewart said, is the company’s business model.

“Wildrose is not just a dog kennel. It’s a sporting and lifestyle company,” Stewart said. “Yes, we train dogs, but the dogs are a compliment to a sporting lifestyle, and that’s incorporated into our mission statement.”

Based in Oxford, Wildrose has training facilities in the Mississippi Delta, near Marks, Northwest Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Dallas. Stewart and his team are also opening a Raleigh, N.C. facility next month. That means, no matter where one might be in the contiguous 48 states, there’s a Wildrose Kennels branch within a 13-hour drive.

The business has turned out thousands of dogs since it first opened its doors, each trained in a variety of areas including waterfowling, bird hunting and Wildrose’s trademark “Adventure Dog” program.

“Twelve years ago, I developed a program called the ‘Adventure Dog.’ That’s the dog that hikes, bikes, camps, canoes,” he said. “This is for people who don’t necessarily hunt, but live an outdoor lifestyle. The family can get out and explore, and the dogs have become companions. We’re not going to narrow ourselves into just shooting, thinking we’re only training duck dogs.”

The company also provides service dog training and participates in outreach programs, including a partnership with Lafayette Upper Elementary School. All clients who purchase a dog from Wildrose are guaranteed spots for boarding and training, regardless of where they are.

When describing his relationships with clients and with the dogs Wildrose raises, Stewart uses words like “predictable” and “dependable,” and speaks of tailoring each match between a dog and its owner. It’s vernacular that’s more likely to come from a car salesman than a dog breeder, and Stewart said that’s done on purpose.

“We try to listen to our customers and tailor that dog to their specific purposes,” he said. “There’s two things I modeled this business after years ago: one was Harley Davidson and the other was Mercedes Benz. When I created this company, I made it a lifestyle company, not a dog breeding company.”

By pulling the best from these two companies, Wildrose has been able to develop a training method, the “Wildrose Way,” which is based on pack mentality, structure and positive reinforcement.

It’s a gamble Stewart admits has paid off. In addition to the dog kennel and training program, Oxford’s branch of the company features an outdoors store, carrying brands like Orvis and items for every outdoorsman and their pup.

Being inducted to the Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame, he said, is an honor.

“It’s an honor, because there are so many sportsmen doing so many wonderful things across the state of Mississippi, from the north to the Gulf Coast,” Stewart said. “There’s so much there when you say ‘outdoors,’ and it’s an honor to be chosen from so much diversity.”

Other inductees are Jane and Rabbit Rogers, of Jackson; Billy Ellis, of Lexington; Albert Paul, of Collinsville and Bobby Woods, of Glen Allan.

The induction ceremony will be held on June 1 at the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum in Leland.