AmericaTogo was once excluded from the towing team due to being thin and small, he still followed the team during training and became the leader of the serum truck in 1925.
Located about 250 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, the remote Alaskan town of Nome is home to about 1,000 people. A few months before the winter of 1924-1925, Curtis Welch, the sole doctor in Nome, ordered more diphtheria antitoxin serum because he discovered the batch at the hospital had expired. But unfortunately, the shipment did not arrive in time before the port closed for the winter.
A few days after the last ship left port, Dr. Welch received a number of sick children for treatment. At first, he assumed they had tonsillitis. Over the next few weeks, cases increased and four children died. Welch began to worry about the possibility of diphtheria, according to US National Park Service.
In mid-January, Welch made the first official diagnosis of diphtheria in a three-year-old boy. The boy died two weeks after the first symptoms appeared. The next day, a 7-year-old girl also died. Realizing an outbreak was imminent, Welch called Mayor George Maynard to arrange an emergency meeting.
The town immediately instituted a quarantine. Still, more than 20 people have been confirmed to have diphtheria, and at least 50 others are at risk of contracting the disease by the end of the month. Without antitoxin serum, mortality can be as close as 100%.
The nearest source of serum is located in the city of Anchorage, about 1,600 km from Nome. Getting to Nome is a big challenge even in favorable weather. In winter, this is even near impossible. The harbor is frozen. Commercial airliners are just starting to become popular, but regional planes have open cockpits that make it impossible to fly in low temperatures and strong winds. The Alaska Railroad didn’t come close to Nome either. The nearest train station is in Nenana, about the distance between New York City and Indianapolis.
In the end, the town decided to use teams of sled dogs to transport the serum through the dangerous land. About 150 sled dogs and 20 handlers were chosen to take part in the historic journey.
Togo – the elite “leader” of the sled dog team
Among sled dogs, Togo is a notable name. Named after the Japanese general Heihachiro Togo, this is the leading sled dog of its handler Leonhard Seppala. Togo is a Siberian Husky, dark brown with cream, black and gray markings. It has blue eyes and weighs about 22 kilograms, according to the American Kennel Club.
As a puppy, Togo suffered from a painful throat disorder. Seppala thought that this substandard dog with a thin body would not be suitable for the job. Seppala gave it to a foster neighbor. However, Togo did not want to part with Seppala and his brethren. It jumped out the window and escaped home.
As he got older, Togo was attracted to the dogs sledding around. Still too young to wear a leash, it often rode freely with the teams Seppala trained, much to his dismay. In the end, Seppala decided to strap the 8-month-old Togo and put him on the team. That day, Togo ran 120 km, a record for an inexperienced sled dog, and managed to come out on top the first time he put on a sling. Unexpectedly, Seppala found the perfect leader dog he had always wanted.
Over the years, Togo became Seppala’s elite leader and was known throughout Alaska for his endurance, strength, and intelligence. At the time of the diphtheria outbreak in Nome in 1925, Togo was 12 years old and Seppala was 47 years old, both seemingly past their prime. However, with Nome’s precarious fate, locals know that the experienced duo still holds great hope.
The journey to bring the serum to save Nome
As the death toll from diphtheria rose, the authorities decided to take action. 300,000 units of serum were shipped to Nenana by rail. After that, the dog sled relay team consisting of many teams will continue to transport this serum over a distance of about 1,085 km to Nome.
At the end of January 1925, Seppala set out with his best sled dogs with Togo’s trusted guide. Under -35 degrees Celsius, Seppala had to rely on Togo’s instincts when he couldn’t see the way ahead due to wind and snow. Overcoming difficulties, Seppala met and received the serum from the team of the controller Henry Ivanoff.
While crossing the Sound, Seppala’s team got stuck on an iceberg. Seppala tied a rope to Togo, his only hope, and threw the dog into the water. Togo tried to pull the ice but the rope broke. Amazingly, Togo grabbed the rope underwater, wrapped it around his shoulders like a belt, and pulled the team to safety.
Seppala delivered the serum to another team in Golovin, 125 km from Nome. On February 3, 1925, the transport team of the driver Gunnar Kaasen and the leader dog Balto arrived in Nome, completing the historic journey. The town was saved.
Although Balto became famous for completing the last leg of more than 80 km, Togo was the “hero” when transporting the serum about 150 km, passing the longest and most dangerous part of the relay journey. The total distance of 1,085 km was completed by the sled dogs in only 5 and a half days, setting a world record at that time.
Togo retired to Maine, USA, and died at the age of 16. “I’ve never had a better dog than Togo. Its endurance, loyalty, and intelligence are all first-class. Togo is the best dog ever to run the Alaska Trail,” Seppala shared in five years. 1960.