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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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