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The Daily Need

Photo: A onetime winter hero on four legs

Gunnar Kasson with Balto in the winter of 1925. Photo: AP

After reading yesterday about the probe by Canada’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals into the execution of 100 healthy sled dogs, I considered changing today’s photo of the day, but in the end, I decided that remembering Balto, Togo and the 150 sled dogs of the 1925 Serum Run to Nome could serve as a tribute to the slain animals at Outdoor Adventures in Whistler last April.

On this day in 1925, Gunnar Kaasen drove his sled dog team, led by a Siberian Husky named Balto, into Nome Alaska on the final leg of the 1925 serum run. Nome lies just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle and at the time was only accessible by steamship or the 938-mile Iditarod Trail. The residents of Nome were suffering an outbreak of diptheria, a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial disease.

Balto in bronze. Photo: Cameron Adam

The closest antitoxin was in Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles away, and because of weather conditions that grounded the only available plane, the serum would need to be transported by a relay of sled dog teams. More than 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs took part in the serum run, facing hazardous, blizzard conditions, dangerous frostbite and wind-chilled temperatures reaching to −80 °F. The total mileage of the sled dog portion of the trek was 674 miles, and was completed in an incredible 127 1/2 hours (about 5 1/2 days).

Just 10 months after Balto and his team arrived in Nome with the antitoxin that stopped the disease, a scuplture by Frederick Roth was erected in New York City’s Central park “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.”

If you find yourself closer to Cleveland than Central Park, you can pay a visit to the real Balto. After the dog’s death in 1933 at the age of 14, his remains were mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Balto in glass. Photo: Dan Coulter

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  • FEsrigoHL

    Balto WAS NOT the big hero. He only got the credit because he ran the last and shortest and easiest leg of the trip. The real hero who ran the longest and worst section is nelected, just as trhe AFAM MAN WHO FIRST STEPPED ON THE North Pole is only now being given the credit.
    No, I am not an AFAM person, but I AM a dog breeder. If you are doing a program it should be accurate. Most TV about dog is seriously innacurate and lacking in detail. Most people have NO CLUE about the most important aspects concerning dogs; much to the detriment of the dogs and the dog owning public. I started breeding dogs in 1948 and am known WORLD WIDE for the quality of my dogs and can be seen in all major Rottweiler books. http://www.SRIGOROTTWEILERS.NET. The program on the Russian foxes is the best I’ve seen on canids.

  • RMG

    The real hero was Togo the lead dog of Leonhard Seppala. Togo was an older dog at the time yet he was the lead dog that covered over 200 miles and some of the most dangerous and treacherous parts of the run. Balto covered far less territory, but Kassan’s team with Balto in the lead was the one that pulled into Nome with the serum.

  • Anonymous

    The media got it wrong so long ago.
    In 1925, a Siberian husky named Togo led a team 135 miles through terrifying terrain, more than two and half times the distance covered by any other driver in the famous 647-mile Serum Run to Nome. “And this was done at top speed, in blizzard conditions over heaving ice,” writes Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury in “The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic.” “[Musher Leonhard Seppala] and the dogs had survived the ruthless challenge of Norton Sound and shaved at least a day off the critical time schedule.”
    The media attributed Togo’s accomplishment to Balto, who covered the last 53 miles in a blizzard. Musher Gunnar Kaasen drove the team into the deserted streets of Nome, February 2 at 5 a.m. No one was expecting them in the storm. They later recreated the run for the cameras.
    Balto became an instant celebrity.
    Newspapers ran front-page photos and Balto and Kaasen went on tour in the lower 48, where the city of Los Angeles awarded him a key to the city and New York City erected a sculpture in his likeness in Central Park.
    “No one remembers the correction,” said Laney Salisbury in a telephone interview. “And we don’t like to take down heroes once they are made.”
    To read more:

  • Cattery Brisbane

    Wow! What a great photo! I am huge fan of this kind of sight nature. Thanks for sharing with us. I like this.