College of Liberal Arts

- University of Mississippi

Collection of stories edited by English professor Ben McClelland focuses on diabetic alert dogs

JANUARY 21, 2014 BY MISTY COWHERD

Ben McClelland and his dogs.

Ben McClelland and his dogs.

In a new book edited by University of Mississippi English Professor Ben McClelland, readers get a glimpse at how the canines of Wildrose Kennel are helping save lives.

Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Diabetic Alert Dogs,” is a collection of stories that show how these canine service companions are helping people with Type 1 diabetes to manage their health care. The book is due for release in mid-March.

As a dog lover, McClelland has enjoyed a lifetime of training dogs for sport, but participating in the development and training of lifesaving British Labradors has proven to be a life-changing experience.

During a sabbatical leave from the university, McClelland joined the training staff of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, where he served as an apprentice trainer and resident writer. He began blogging and writing stories about trainers, clients and special events. He also began working with kennel owners Mike and Cathy Stewart to plan a book about the diabetic alert dogs, known as DADs, which use their keen sense of smell to alert patients when their blood sugar levels are low.

McClelland worked with 10 authors for several years to build a collection of stories into one manuscript through collaborative editing. Each of the dogs featured in the book came from Wildrose Labrador lines and/or were trained by Wildrose personnel.

VIDEO: Interview with Ben McClelland>>

“Over the last few years, Dr. McClelland has spent a lot of time with these dogs and observed their rigorous training,” said Ivo Kamps, UM chair of English. “This book is his sympathetic account of just what these dogs are able to accomplish and how they change the day-to-day lives of their diabetic owners and their families.”

McClelland has contributed to or written several professional books, including ”The New American Rhetoric,” a freshman English textbook, and his memoir, “Soldier’s Son.” This book differs in that it is a collection of nonfiction narratives from his personal experience.

“We worked to emphasize those aspects of each person’s story that were unique to him or her,” McClelland said. “We tried to keep each story focus on the diabetics, the impact of the disease on their families and, of course, on their diabetic alert dogs.”

Among the DADs named in the stories, readers learn about Mr. Darcy and Teddy Bear, the pioneers in scent research; Charlie, the first to join his diabetic partner in a public school setting; and Drake, who is adept at nighttime alerts.

“The heroes featured in Ben McClelland’s work not only save lives, but they also free families from the nightmare of Type 1 diabetes,” said Neil White, author of “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.” “Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin have nothing on these lifesaving Labradors.”

McClelland and the authors are donating all book royalties to the Wildrose Service Dog Foundation housed at CREATE in Tupelo. The diabetic alert dog program is a not-for-profit entity at Wildrose.

“These personal narratives by owners of DADs are both informative and deeply moving, and should be widely read by those in the medical profession, by sufferers from diabetes and their families, and by anyone who seeks knowledge and understanding, ” said Ann Fisher-Wirth, UM professor of English.

McClelland is grateful for the support of the College of Liberal Arts and the university for granting a 2011 sabbatical leave for this research, as well as the Department of English, which granted additional research funds for completing the project.

McClelland regularly teaches courses in nonfiction literature and writing, in advanced composition and in American fiction. He is married to Susan McClelland, interim chair of teacher education and associate professor of leadership and counselor education at UM.