Famous Feet: Quito of SP Kennels

Quito, center, leads the team and Aliy Zirkle on the Yukon River.

In this edition, Mushing Magazine features Aliy Zirkle and Alan Moore’s lead dog Quito. Among Iditarod and Yukon Quest connoisseurs, Quito has risen to stardom by virtue of leading Aliy through horrendous storms on the Bering Sea coast, coming in second at the Iditarod numerous times, winning with Alan Moore the Yukon Quest and receiving two golden harness awards in that race.

Meet Quito in Alan and Aliy’s own words:

Quito was born June 12, 2006 at SP Kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska. She is currently just shy of 12 and a half-years-old. She raced until she was almost 11. Although she is currently sassy and appears healthy, she was just recently diagnosed with a major health issue. Only time will tell. We continue to enjoy every day with her.

Quito’s mom was a dog that we saw in a dog yard at a guy’s house in Two Rivers when we were doing some construction work for him. She was an outstanding looking dog and we brought her home for $200. The owner thought she was too small and didn’t eat very well. It turned out Venus —we named her that— was from one of the first litters that Yuksi sired. Venus’ mother was a sprint dog named Cream.

Venus was a very talented dog – but her original owner was correct… she didn’t eat very well. She lead several Copper Basin 300 championship teams for us and raced Iditarod four times.

We bred Venus to Lance Mackey’s Zorro. That was before Lance and Zorro began winning everything. We certainly got that combination correct: mix Zorro genetics with Yuksi genetics. There are quite a few great dogs with this lineage mix and even couple legends besides Quito.

Quito was born in a litter of five. She was the smallest and was therefore named “Poquito” – which means ‘little bit’ in Spanish. Her siblings are Chica, Nacho, Bonita and Paco. This litter was PHENOMENAL. In the last seven years, three of these dogs —Chica, Nacho and Quito— have produced nearly every dog at our kennel.They are all completely dedicated sled dogs with bodies that never got tired. Amazing.

Quito was a smart puppy. We would take the litter on exercise runs with the ATV. These pups liked to be ahead of the machine when running. Quito was faster than all of them, but they would tackle her if she passed them. From the ATV view behind the pups, we could watch Quito strategize during the run, thinking about when and where to pass her siblings, so that they couldn’t catch her. It became a game for her. She would always arrive at home before us all.

Quito has swagger and confidence and she 100 percent deserves to feel that way. She will bark at dogs or people who irritate her. Usually she is correct and we all do what she says.

Quito didn’t become our main leader until she was four-years-old. She was a tall, lanky team dog prior to that. At age four —BAM! — she became the leader of the kennel overnight.

Quito was a good sled dog from being a yearling until three-years-old. She must have learned a lot those first years. She maintained her peak racing form from age four until nine. At almost 10-years, she slowed down a bit but was fit enough to lead our younger team across the Iditarod finish line in 32nd place (under 10 day race.) At almost 11-years, she lead another team out of the Iditarod chute in downtown Anchorage. At 12-years, she did not race.

During the highlight of her career, she won everything race she entered, except Iditarod where she placed second three years consecutively. She ran the Yukon Quest and Iditarod back-to-back five years in a row. She was awarded the Yukon Quest Golden Harness twice. There was no co-leader on stage with her. Quito was the lead dog. Anyone could run beside her, but they all knew who was boss.

During the 2014 Iditarod, Aliy and Quito mushed into a gruesome blizzard about 40 miles from the finish line. It was a life or death situation.  Aliy has no doubt that she would have been lost to the storm without her. “During the worst of the white out, when I couldn’t tell if we were still in Alaska or on the moon, Quito kept going in single lead,” said Aliy. “She always tried to find the trail and when she couldn’t, she did her best to go in the correct direction. When the cabin at Safety popped out of the white out blizzard, I was amazed. I didn’t even know we were on the trail. Quito did that.”  

Quito is a very fine looking dog to this day. In her prime she weighed in at 42 pounds. She was slight of build but tall. She has a husky grey coat, enormous stand up ears and brown eyes.

Quito is, stand alone, the most talented sled dog we have ever had the privilege to know. Smart, tough, resilient and generally happy. She didn’t necessarily race for her musher or because she felt obligated. She genuinely enjoyed running down the race trail and competing. She did it for herself. Quito is logical – she knows right and wrong. If she does something wrong, it is on purpose.

That’s the amazing thing about female ‘All-Star’ dogs. Not only are they incredibly talented and race multiple events through their careers, but also during their “off season” they raise puppies. We’ve always wonder how much biological effort a female dog uses to raise a litter of pups and how does it impact her racing career?

Quito’s first two litters were at age five-years and six-years during the prime of her racing career. We bred her both times to her half brother, Biscuit, who is another Zorro pup. She raised 11 pups in those litters and they all raced for us. We bred her again at age nine to Joar Ulsom’s dog, Kosak. He is the brother of Joar’s magnificent lead dog, Sivo. She had seven pups. They are three-years-old now and the core of our team. We bred Quito again at age 10, to our dog, Clyde, sired by Paul Gebhardt’s, Lieutenant, and mother was ChaCha, another Yuksi pup. This final litter was three pups.

Quito is retired. She has the run of the property and spends the night indoors in the living room. She likes to saunter through the yard or lay on the deck. She walks purposefully around the edges of the yard and only greets dogs if she cares to say hello. Her bedtime spot is a crate next to Aliy’s recliner. She collects things and hoards them in her crate. Every so often we have to clean out her hoarding and we find dog collars, nylabones, sharpie markers and such. If she had a bigger crate her hoarding might be a problem.

Quito is likely to be the smartest, most talented, physically tough and best put together Alaskan husky sled dog that we will ever have on a dog team. Racing was easy for her and so she competed, year after year. It took two human counterparts, both Aliy and Allen, to keep up with one Quito.