Kim Thomsen rescued her first Siberian Husky from the pound about 11 years ago and her family has grown steadily ever since. She now shares her home and her busy life with eight fluffy, bouncing Siberians. Five years ago, she hooked them up to a dog sled.
She credits her friends, kennel owners Sheila and Glen Laughton, for getting her started in this sport.
"I started going to the races and one day they put me on a sled and told me not to let go," she said. "I lost my team twice."
The owner of Shear Designs beauty salon in Carson City, 32-year-old Thomsen has dark hair, dark eyes and an easy smile. Born and raised in Carson City, her home sits on a southern slope just east of Dayton with a commanding view of Mount Como.
The Siberians, all males, watch newcomers curiously from their pens and as Thomsen greets the animals, they eagerly respond. Charlie, a handsome red and white, and Remington, a black and white, are the lucky ones, chosen to accompany her into the house for a visit.
The dogs' position in the six-member racing team depends on the characteristics of the animal. The "wheel" dogs, or muscle dogs, are placed closest to the sled. The "lead" dogs, out in front, are the smartest and the "point" dogs, those in the middle, are usually the least experienced.
"The brains go in front, the brawn in the back, and everything else goes in between," Thomsen said.
"Few people use Siberians for sled-dog competitions because they aren't the fastest out there. They were bred for the long haul and not for speed," she said. "But I love the breed."
Intelligent and full of spirit and energy, they are a handful and she said keeping eight -- some of whom are real escape artists -- is a full-time job. She readily admits they aren't for everyone.
"Three of mine can unlatch the gate and they'll chew through almost anything," she said. "But everyone loves Siberians and once you've owned one, you'll never want anything else."
She starts training in November with a sled on wheels and a 250-pound cart for weight. Each dog can pull about three times its weight and males weigh about 55 pounds.
Thomsen attends five races a year in Oregon and California. She starts in mid-January and concentrates on the 6-mile sprint, the shortest race. The prizes go to the teams with the best overall time for two days.
"This is the only sport where all compete equally. There are no classes," she said. "Weight is a major factor, yet a 300-pound man competes right next to a 12-year-old girl. One 12-year-old has beaten me two years running. She only weighs 80 pounds."
She said there is a real camaraderie among sled-dog owners.
"Everyone knows everyone and we all get along," she said. "If someone is in trouble, another team will help even if they're out in front."
Sled dog competitions are Thomsen's first love, but she competes only five times a year and when the season is over she puts "Charlie" in the confirmation (show) ring.
He's acquired his first championship rating through the International Breed Canine Association of America and chalked up three of the 15 points needed for a championship with the American Kennel Club, no small feat in this type of competition. She's striving for a dual championship for Charlie with honors in both confirmation and sled-dog competition.
"Siberians are a working breed, but most of the dogs in the show ring are bred primarily with confirmation in mind," she said. "It's rare to find someone who does both."