It was exactly 2, 962 miles round trip to get Murph and he is worth every mile of it. It was a great seven days with my son Nick, road tripping through the South. I was born and raised there. Nick was born and raised in Vermont and introducing him to southern staples like pork cracklins and moon pies just made it better.
The first three days we hunted quail at Harris Springs (you can see the video in the hunting section); we shucked and ate roasted oysters South Carolina; went to Bass Pro in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I discovered to my chagrin I didn’t need anything; visited a friend of mine in Athens, Georgia who lives on a lake where we watched geese and mallards drop in front of the rising sun; ate our fill of Waffle House breakfasts; spent the night near Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi; and ultimately ended up in Oxford, Mississippi and Wildrose Kennels.
In this land of William Faulkner, Mike and Cathy Stewart have created a phenomenon; breeding and training Labradors from British bloodlines and developing a program that is now world famous. Wildrose dogs can be found all over the country, Mike has been on the cover of Forbes Magazine, and his dogs Deke and Drake are the official mascots of Ducks Unlimited. In short they have combined extraordinary dogs with extraordinary business acumen and built a remarkably successful business model that has created a powerful demand for Wildrose dogs, both new puppy and finished dog.
Nick and I were the first to arrive the morning of the puppy pick. There were three litters going out that day. Trainers walked the property focused on the young dogs at their sides. Mike gave us a tour of the facilities including the inner sanctum of the whelping and the puppy area where soft lighting and soothing music kept the dams and their litters calm and relaxed, and the big elevated boxes where the older litters resided trembled with wiggling residents.
By nine o’clock the parking lot was full and everyone was treated to a tour followed by a training seminar with Mike, his trainers, and the resident vet. Then it was time for the puppy pick. I was up first for the males out of Ruff and Pinny. Ruff is the newest sire, an Irish champion brought over in the early spring of this year. Looking at him, I was damn near drooling at the thought of having a dog of that caliber. Murph’s dam, Pinny was no different, and I could only imagine what they would produce.
Then suddenly there they were, four little males running around on the floor, and me standing there with high hopes and desperately looking for a sign, any sign. Which one? They were all the same size. There was no notable behavioral difference. I’ve had Labs for years and yet I was stumped. To make it worse everyone else was standing there watching and waiting. Suddenly, one leaped up and spun around in a wonderfully playful act of exuberance and I pointed. That one.
Wildrose Malibu Murphy was chosen. I wished Bob Murphy could have been there to see it. Maybe he was. I would have loved to hear what he had to say about these puppies as he knew more and cared more about Labs than most. Once chosen, Murph was quickly injected with a microchip for permanent identification. My dog has a barcode.
All the puppies were chosen, pictures taken, puppies were everywhere in the arms of hunters and children and the adoration seemed no different in either. Eventually everyone left but Nick and I as we were spending the night at the Wildrose Cabin, a log cabin tucked away on a pond on the property.
We spent the afternoon with Mike and watched Murph’s sire Ruff work in the field doing things I envision Murph doing someday. 250 yard retrieves and multiple blind retrieves through the woods. I’ve never seen anything quite as impressive and to think his son was in my truck, simply added to the pleasure of it.
We spent the evening in Oxford Square where Faulkner walked and we wallowed in southern cuisine. Butterbeans, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, red beans and rice and cornbread, followed by a some serious porch time at the cabin crowned one my best days ever. It was southern winter warm and I was facing a drive back to the frozen tundra. I relished every wind-in-the-pines moment.
Sunrise found us already headed north with Murph and Dave Perkins’ new puppy Jess in the Suburban.
Dave and Nancy got a black female out of one of the other litters and as they were in another part of the country, I volunteered to bring her home. Those two puppies shared a kennel for the 1,500 mile return trip, kept us entertained the whole way, and to be honest when I got home I didn’t want to part with her. Watching those two run around every stop from Mississippi to Vermont made the miles melt like Carolina snow.
So Murph’s home. The only one not quite enamored yet is Pickett, my eight-year-old Lab. Annoyed perhaps best describes it. If only I could remind him of his effect on old Bo when he arrived eight years ago. Soon, if the gods are kind they’ll be hunting together and my days in the field will be so much the better if that is possible.
I’ll be updating Murph’s progress weekly and hope you’ll keep reading. It’ll be fun.