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Duluth-area sled-dog kennel to appear on TLC reality show

The Willis Family spending the day at Endurance Kennels. (Gene Shaw photo)

While a family with its own reality television show was performing in Duluth this past winter, the cast took a dog-sledding field trip — and recorded footage that will appear on Tuesday's episode of TLC's "The Willis Family."

The Willises played the main stage during the Duluth Boat, Sports, Travel and RV Show in mid-February at the DECC. One mid-week morning, they brought at least four carloads to Endurance Kennels, a sprint-racing kennel in Normanna Township currently housing 28 dogs, which offers hands-on tours, puppy cuddling and rides.

"They wanted to do something fun while they were on tour in Duluth," said kennel owner Tone Coughlin.

A blurb on TLC's website for the episode "Making Moves" says: "The Willis Family ends their tour with a fun family activity: dog sledding! But which Willis has the fastest pack? Back at home, the kids race against the clock to pull together an extra special anniversary surprise for Brenda and Toby."

The Willises are a Tennessee-based family of 12 musicians, the children of Brenda and Toby Willis, who incorporate their Irish roots into their songs and dance. They've toured the country in a rehabilitated 56-passenger bus, played the Grand Ole Opry and performed on "America's Got Talent" in addition to appearing on the year-old reality show that covers the family's busy life.

The crew's February performances at the boat show were a followup to a series of shows during the Arrowhead Home and Builders Show in April 2015.

Coughlin said it was obvious that the Willis siblings — who range in age from mid-20s to about 7-years-old — were accustomed to being around animals.

"We have a lot of people who come through," he said. "Some people are dog-friendly, some aren't. The dogs loved them. You can tell a lot right there."

Coughlin said the crew used two drones and three or four cameras, and that everyone wore a microphone under their coat. It was a sunny day, about 20 degrees, he said.

"A good day for running dogs in the woods," he said.

Coughlin's kennel is off the grid — no power, no water and no well, according to its website — so he won't be able to watch the show when it airs live Tuesday night. Friends are recording it for him, he said.