Many of you may know the story of Balto and other sled dogs delivering the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska in 1925. While Balto got all of the credit for the serum run, it was actually another dog, Togo, that covered the longest and most hazardous section of the trail.
Togo was a bit of an issue for his owners as a pup and even got into fights with other dogs. He was a pain to keep in the house and the kennel yard, going as far as breaking off his chain and chasing the team far into the wilderness just so he could be a part of the run. He was even given away by his owner as a pet, but he broke out of his new home in order to run back to his original pack. Once his original owner reluctantly harnessed him up, he was surprised to find that Togo was something of a prodigy when it came to leading a dog team. He was a natural. He even learned to avoid other dog teams and run right by them without swooping in their way to say hello. He learned this lesson by way of an unfortunate fight with a Malamute much larger than he was, but it sure got the message across to him!
Togo was a dog with true endurance, not only athletically but in his longevity. He was 12 years old when he made the serum run of 170 miles in 3 days (they had to come back as well, doubling the distance!). Many dogs these days would not be able to run that far at that age. During this run, temperatures were reported to be -40 degrees Fahrenheit without the wind chill and as low as -85 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill!
Togo’s owner was Leonhard Seppala, a sled dog musher from Norway that lived in Alaska and eventually Maine. He was one of the first well-known mushers to regularly drive dogs over long distances (100 miles +) on a daily basis as well as to continue to train dogs during the summer using wheeled vehicles. Seppala was quoted as saying that Togo was “the best dog that ever traveled the Alaska trail.” Togo’s stamina, loyalty, and intelligence could not be beaten in Seppala’s opinion. Seppala took his team to Maine after their time in Alaska for their retirement and to establish a kennel that would continue his legacy.
Togo was eventually euthanized in Poland Springs, Maine. His bloodlines live on in the Seppala Siberian Husky, a genetic line of Siberian Huskies that are treasured by those who breed them. Both Togo and Balto’s bodies and skeletons are separately mounted in different museums. Few animals achieve the status of being buried in their natural form with a memorial or being mounted to make them an immortal memory. This is said by some to be the ultimate honor for an animal. You can see him at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters Museum in Wasilla, AK.