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.
Puppies and dogs naturally jump up on people when they say hello. Why? Because we’re taller than they are! When dogs meet, they sniff each other’s faces. They like to do the same thing when greeting us, so it’s perfectly natural for dogs to jump up on us to try to reach our faces and get our attention.
"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."