Ukrainian-born champion dancer Karina Smirnoff kicked off her impressive Dancing With the Stars run on ABC in 2006 with season 3, when she sashayed into a second-place finish with partner and TV personality Mario Lopez. She then danced all the way to the mirror ball trophy in season 13, in 2011, with Army vet J.R. Martinez, and just recently concluded season 18. Smirnoff, who wrapped up Broadway’s Forever Tango last year, has also appeared in movies such as Shall We Dance? and Across Grace Alley. What's more, she's a founder of Alternative Intervention Models, a nonprofit that gives kids and teens a healthy outlet in movement. Throughout her dance career and during her time on DWTS, she’s had a lot of leading men -- musician Gavin DeGraw, actor Ralph Macchio, country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- but no man leads her around more than her beloved dog, Randy.
Over the last two decades, the role of the domestic dog has undergone significant change. Dogs who used to live in a house with family members around all day, every day-and who had a big backyard in which to play and chase rabbits-may find themselves in an empty house 8 to 10 hours a day and being taken on a leash to a place to eliminate. Some dogs have a difficult time adjusting to this lifestyle, and many behavior problems occur because dogs are on their own and entertaining themselves inside...
"He's an American Staffordshire terrier, almost 7 years old, 95 pounds, and he's the biggest teddy bear. He'll look mean, but he thinks he's a Chihuahua and likes to sit on your lap. When he walks by a mirror, he'll startle himself, because he doesn't realize he's so big. He sleeps with me (taking up 90% of the bed) and only eats with a spoon."
How does a spoon-feeding habit start?
"He had a stomach infection when he was a puppy, and to save him, the shelter fed him with a spoon. So by the time I adopted him, he was set in his ways."
Did you have dogs growing up in Ukraine?
"I wanted a dog. My parents were always working, and I was in every activity imaginable. They'd get me cats. When we came to America, we saw a little kitten under a car in the Bronx, where we lived in the ‘90s. My mom said we could take her home, and we named her Hillary after the first lady. Dogs are more responsibility; it's like having a 5-year-old kid."