A Little History

Today we turn things over to reader Amy Broughman who very nicely sends us this:
On this date in 1925, the Great Race of Mercy, also known as the 1925 serum run, began in Nenana, Alaska. An outbreak of Diptheria was killing children in the remote town of Nome, and the resident doctor (Curtis Welch) did not have nearly enough antitoxin to control the spread of the disease.
Alaska was remote in those days and it was determined that the antitoxin could only be transported by dog sled. Serum was located and brought to Nenana by rail to be transported the 674 miles to Nome. Twenty mushers and over 150 dogs, four of whom would die in the attempt, were quickly assembled and covered the 670+ miles in a record-breaking 127.5 hours in one of the worst blizzards Alaska had ever seen, some temps falling to 80 degrees below zero in gale force winds.
The average leg of the run was 31 miles. Musher Leonhard Seppala and his best, albeit oldest, dog Togo ran an astounding 264 miles in service to the serum and those whose lives were at risk, a feat unmatched today.
Also noteworthy is that Balto, another of Seppala’s lead dogs, ran the final 53-mile leg into Nome with another musher and received the accolades Seppala felt should have been Togo’s, including a statue in New York’s Central Park. Balto was a good lead dog as well but largely untested, especially in such wicked conditions, and his leg of the run presented few problems (he was able to recover the trail when his musher, Gunnar Kaasen, was forced to go off-trail due to snowbanks too large to negotiate).
Togo was a hero among lead dogs. Lead dogs, in particular, were of the utmost importance and had to display many talents that the other dogs lacked (confidence and motivation, agility, strength, ability to lead and control the other dogs in the team, problem-solving intelligence, stamina, and an innate sense of hazards such as thin or cracking ice, and the capacity to ignore a musher’s command that might lead the team into danger). The fact that Togo was a small dog (approximately 45 lbs) compared to the breed standard of 50-65 lbs and was 12 years old at the time of the run makes his accomplishment all the more incredible.
The Great Race of Mercy still represents one of the most collaborative efforts ever accomplished.
Below: Seppala and Togo (far left).
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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2023 at 8:09 am and is filed under Chet The Dog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “A Little History”

  1. B. Stover
    9:42 am on January 25th, 2023

    Interesting.

    Good day to all.

  2. Herd of Hounds
    9:50 am on January 25th, 2023

    Good day everyone!
    The truth is so much more interesting than the “Disney-Izard” version.

  3. Cheryl Byers
    1:50 pm on January 25th, 2023

    What a great story. You rarely hear about Togo and the other dogs. They and their handlers all deserve recognition.

  4. Wose-The Small and Meek
    3:08 pm on January 25th, 2023

    Greetings!

    Such an amazing story!

    Barely there snow in this neck of the woods.

  5. Thieves!
    12:50 am on January 26th, 2023

    We have been fortunate to have had many a great lead dog among our ranks. Harris, the rescue not the Hobbit is among them. Like Balto, she was an untested lead dog. But, she managed to lead the team the final 300 miles of the race. It was her first long distance race and first season racing. The first ten miles out of the checkpoint in lead, she continued to glance over her shoulder at AJ. With words of encouragement she gained confidence. We have always said the relationship you have with the dogs makes all the difference. Harris is proof of this.

    We have two dogs that are descendants of the Seppala dogs.

  6. Chet The Dog
    7:54 am on January 26th, 2023

    Hi Thieves! Thanks for the input. Do you have photos of those two descendants? – Peter

  7. mlaiuppa
    4:22 am on January 28th, 2023

    There is some question as to whether Balto was even the lead dog on that last leg. Seppala considered him untalented and he had him neutered since he didn’t consider breeding him. He worked as a freight hauling dog, not a racer like Togo. Balto was photogenic and the media of the time made him the star of the serum run. Or Gunnar did.

    Togo eventually did get a statue. He also sired a lot of puppies in his retirement. His accomplishment, long overshadowed, is finally being recognized.

    Freyja actually looks a bit like Togo (far left) but has a floppy left ear tip. Not from a fight, just born that way. I think it’s the Border Collie in her.

    I have wondered if Freyja came from working sled dog lines rather than Husky. She has some of the mixes that are mixed back into the working lines to freshen the gene pool, but I’ll never know.

    She seems to have settled at 48 lbs and is rather small compared to her pure bred Husky cousins in the show line. I have never tried to have her pull anything so no idea if she has any talent in that regard. She has the agouti coloring that makes me think working rather than show. Lots of little bits, her largest being Border Collie at about 10% next to her Husky at around 50%. Neither Embark nor Wisdom will differentiate Seppala Sled Dog from Siberian Husky. She was picked up off the streets by Hesperia Animal Control but I have no way of really knowing if she was born in California.

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