September 11, 2015 | Posted in Discover These Doggies!!
Just as with men, there are late bloomers with dogs too. And as with us humans, in dogs too, nature and nurture both play a role in the development of personality. Togo the Siberian husky owned by Leonhard Seppala was one such dog. Togo weighed 48 pounds as an adult, which is lower than what fully-grown huskies weigh. Togo made up for his lack of heft with courage plus an energetic and mischievous demeanor. His conduct during his formative years was deemed rowdy and almost unworthy of a good sled dog.
At the time of Togo’s birth nobody could have thought that a sickly puppy would one day lead a team of sled dogs on one of the most heroic canine missions ever. Seppala’s wife cared for the puppy and nurtured him to health. The mission in question was the now-fabled 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy in which mushers and three teams of sled dogs raced through the icy Alaskan terrain and covered a total of 674 miles in five and half days. The objective was to deliver anti-diphtheria serum to the town of Nome, Alaska. In the absence of medicine, the town faced an imminent wipeout from the deadly and highly contagious disease which was fast assuming epidemic proportions.
Togo and Leonhard completed the first and longest leg of the race and traveled a total distance of 365 miles over the round-trip. Togo was the lead dog and guided his team through risky terrain and faced temperatures of −65 °C and winds at 65 mi/h. In fact, the winter that year was the worst in two decades and at times the team traveled into incoming storms. During the run, poor visibility prevented Seppala from navigating to the roadhouse where the team was supposed to rest. Togo shepherded the team to the rest house; had they missed it the team would have perished for sure in the inhospitable weather. The journey to Golovin, where Seppala passed the serum to the next musher, included a climb of 5000 feet up Little McKinley Mountain. The strain of the epic journey was too much for Togo and physically he was never the same again. But his work was done and his fame secure. Togo was a mature twelve year old dog at the time of the run and had been leading the pack for seven years. He had shown early signs of greatness, on his very first run as a callow pup he completed a grueling 75-mile run.
After the epic event, Togo participated in dog sled races against Chinooks, a breed of sled dogs. Togo led Seppala to easy wins. Togo’s fame and these wins stoked public interest in the Siberian husky breed. The breed spread throughout America; in 1930 it was recognized by the American Kennel Club. Today, many huskies in America trace their lineage to the team that pulled the sleds under Togo’s leadership.
In 1926, Togo was awarded a special gold medal by the great Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen.
Togo died on December 5th, 1929. He was 16 years old at that time. He left the world for canine Valhalla after having lived an adventurous life. Visitors to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters museum in Wasilla, Alaska can take a look at Togo’s body preserved and mounted on a stand.