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At Westminster, an Alaskan Malamute sports high mileage and attitude

Here at Westminster, people often ask how old a dog is, but they rarely ask how many miles a dog has run. It’s an appropriate question for Twila Baker, owner of Kinky, a 6-year-old Alaskan Malamute that has logged more than 18,000 miles pulling a dog sled, Baker says. The mileage is the equivalent of running the United States -- coast-to-coast -- more than six times.

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Ron Dysart, left, and John Dewing, groom Kinky, a six-year-old Alaskan Malamute whose owner says has run 18,000 miles on her dog team. Westminster Dog Show, Tuesday, Feb. 15.


Kinky's sister, Tyra, in harness with a sled dog team, greets a puppy.


Kinky, the lead dog on the left, runs with other sled dogs during training in Mt. Hood in 2006.

Eighteen thousand miles might seem a bit hard to swallow, but consider that Baker and her husband live way, way out in the boonies.

“We live about 11 miles from the nearest neighbor surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest,” Baker says. They share their off-the-grid home outside Garrison, Mont., with 30 dogs, all Alaskan Malamutes.

“We can run (dog sleds) 200 miles right out of our home,” Baker says.
Baker says Kinky showed early on that she had leadership potential.

“I start running my dogs when they’re about 4 to 6 months old -- they run along with the team, loose, to get kind of used to it,” Baker says. “and (Kinky) was always running in front of the team instead of running with the dogs … so when she was 6 months old, we were out on a run and I just hooked her into lead with another leader and she stayed up there for five years.“

Kinky, whose full name is Grand Champion Quinault’s Twisted Sister, has pulled sleds in Minnesota, Montana, Canada, on Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Rainier in Washington.
“Kinky is the ultimate bitch,” says John Dewing, Kinky’s handler, from Gig Harbor, Wash. (That means she's a great female dog)  “She went from being a champion to being one of the number one bitches in the country in one year, so she’s done a lot in a very short period of time. Not only that but she runs lead.  It takes a lot for a dog to run lead. Mentally they’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be able to keep up the pace with the other dogs and they have to be smart enough to do it.  This girl truly does it all.”

For the most part, Kink’s miles weren’t spent racing.  “Malamutes are not racing dogs,” Dewing says, “They are a freighting dog, they were the work horses of the Arctic. Most of her miles are pretty much recreational miles where her owner has worked her on their property.”

But don’t think Kinky’s life as all work and no play. “She thinks she’s the queen of everything. As far as she’s concerned, all of the world rotates around her,” Dewing says.  Baker adds, “She really is…she’s such a hard worker that you’d never think that she’d come in and be such a princess.  She goes to (John’s) house and just claims it. She goes into a hotel room and just walks in and jumps on the bed. She’s home wherever she is.”

“Lead dog? Definitely,” John’s partner Ron Dysart says. “She gets along great in strange cities, but when she comes home she’s the biggest baby. She gets up on our leather couch, she gets up on our bed, she wants to get up and give you a hug, she’s just a wonderful overall quality dog.  She gets out into the ring (and she’s) aggressive; she comes home and she’s our little Golden Retriever, with teeth.”

See the rest of our behind-the-scenes coverage of the Westminster Dog Show.