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Do You Know the Story of Balto and Togo? The Heroic Feat of the Sledge Dogs.

Balto and Togo: the two Siberian huskies whose story is told in the film Balto and Togo – The Legend (2020)

Do you know the Story of Balto and Togo? The Heroic Feat of the Sledge Dogs.
The statue dedicated to Balto: in New York's Central Park.

I was reminded of this fabulous true story because I happened to have a copy of ‘Balto and Togo – The Legend‘ (‘The Great Alaskan Race’) in my hands these days.
The film recounts the feat achieved by these two wonderful sledge dogs, and while it is not an “absolute masterpiece”, it remains an enjoyable film with a story worth telling.

For the record, “Balto and Togo – The Legend” is the third film adaptation of the feat performed in 1925 by these heroic sledge dogs; in fact, the animated film “Balto” produced by Amblimation (a company owned by Steven Spielberg and later merged into Dreamworks) dates back to 1995; furthermore, in 2019, Disney released the feature film “Togo – A Great Friendship” exclusively on its digital channel Disney+.

Balto and Togo – The story beyond the legend

Balto’s is the story of one of the world’s most famous and well-known dogs, thanks also to the various films and animated features dedicated to him over time, including the cartoon released in 1995.

Balto was a Siberian Husky who went down in history for taking an active part in the heroic expedition, still remembered today as the Serum Run.

Let us proceed in order. Balto was born in 1919: his owner, Leonhard Seppala, was a well-known Norwegian breeder transplanted to Alaska, where he lived with his dogs, famous sledge dogs that dominated the competitions of the time.

In January 1925, a terrible diphtheria epidemic broke out in the Alaskan town of Nome: on the 19th of that month, the first person died, a child of only two years old, who soon shared the tragedy with numerous other victims.

In the following days, the authorities realised what was happening: the epidemic would quickly exterminate the population as the supply of antitoxin to treat diphtheria had run out. The nearest place with the substance was over 600 miles away.

The True Story of Balto and Togo

The Heroic Feat of the Sledge Dogs.
After his death, Balto was embalmed and displayed where he is today: at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Leonhard Seppala, the owner of Togo and Balto, came to Alaska from Norway. He was one of many emigrants who left his homeland to look for gold. Unfortunately, he did not find gold but found the love of an Inuit woman and became one of her people, managing to fall in love with the impervious place.

When his wife died prematurely, he was left alone with his daughter Sigrid. When, in 1925, the little girl was in danger of dying of diphtheria, along with many other children in the town of Nome, Seppala took the old sledge dog Togo with him and walked the longest stretch of the famous musher relay (a musher is the driver of a pack of sledge dogs), which retrieved the serum and saved the town of Nome from the spectre of a terrible epidemic.

For decades, the feat was attributed to Balto. However, the dog Balto only travelled the last part of the long journey and delivered the antitoxin, while the great effort fell to old Togo. This is why hardly anyone knew the name of Leonhard Seppala and that of valiant Togo, the true heroes of the enterprise, who covered something like 400 miles out of the total 600.

As many as 18 relay teams took turns covering the remaining 200 miles. The feat of the musher Seppala and Togo was also truly epic because the route was covered in an unfavourable climate, with average temperatures of forty degrees below zero, proving a man’s courage and a dog’s loyalty could go where neither aircraft nor ships could.

Both dogs were later given credit for the heroic feat. Balto’s stuffed body is in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, while Togo’s is displayed in the Wasilla Museum of Natural History in his native Alaska.

In remembrance of this exceptional feat, a sledgedog race called the Iditarod was established in 1973, which retraces the route between Anchorage and the capital during that feat.

Balto and Togo, the serum rush

Given the geographic location of the town and the time of year, practically every route to bring in medicines had become impassable:

  • Moreover, there was no railway connection.
  • Ships could not dock because of the numerous icebergs
  • Strong wind gusts and storms did not allow aircraft to approach the area
  • The only way to get the antitoxin was to resort to dog sledges, commonly used to deliver mail. Thus began the Serum Run.

As many as 20 mules (‘teams’) of sledgedogs took part in the relay and managed to cover the 600 miles in about five days – a record when you consider that it took postmen about 25 days to cover the same distance. During the journey, the average temperature was around- 40 °.

Togo

Of the more than 600 miles, some 91 were done by Seppala and his sledge pulled by the leader Togo, whom the rancher considered the best of his dogs. This section of the relay was supposed to be 150 miles long, but to shorten the time, a very risky shortcut was taken over fragile ice sheets, which helped to shorten the journey a lot.

Balto

Although not the best of Seppala’s dogs, the one who has gone down in history most of all is Balto: he was the leader of the sledge that arrived with the medicines that stopped the diphtheria epidemic in Nome on 2 February 1925. The feat was immediately celebrated with film productions and a commemorative statue, which was placed in New York’s Central Park in 1927.

In the following years, unfortunately, Balto, together with his entire pack, was bought by a circus family, who kept them for years in a precarious condition despite the heroic feat they had performed.

Only after some time did George Kimble, a Cleveland trader, become aware of the situation and mobilise to offer the dogs a more welcoming place. With the $2,000 raised, the dogs were moved to the Brookside Zoo in Cleveland, where they were cared for and looked after until their final days. But unfortunately, Balto died at the ripe old age of 14 on March 14, 1933.

Togo and Balto: the controversy

Do you know the Story of Balto and Togo?
After his death, Togo was embalmed and displayed where he still is today: at the Iditarod Trail Headquarters Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

Over the years, there has been some controversy surrounding the figures of Balto and Togo. The first was raised by the very man who bred them both: Seppala, who did not accept that all the credit went to Balto even though Togo had the most challenging journey.

Other controversies relate to the actual breed of Balto and Togo and the diatribe between supporters of the Siberian Husky, the breed to which Balto is supposed to have belonged, and those of the Alaskan Malamute, Togo’s likely breed.

What we think is that it does not matter: what is the point of talking about Togo or Balto, Husky or Malamute? Balto was and is not just a dog; he is a symbol. A symbol of a historic feat and a symbol of how dogs can help humans overcome seemingly impossible challenges.

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Your reading contribution was significant to us.

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The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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Written by Frenchie Breed

The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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