Saturday Stories – Togo & Balto the Town Saviours

Balto Togo

Togo By Wynford Morris | CC BY-SA 3.0 | Wikimedia

For this week’s true Saturday Story we’re following the story of a group of Siberian Huskies from the 1920s and their most famous members, Balto and Togo. Back in January 1925 doctors in Nome (Alaska) realised there was a potential outbreak of Diphtheria, a disease that starts with a sore throat and swollen neck (which can lead to a blocking of the airways) and fever-like symptoms.

With no antitoxin serum to treat people, Curtis Welch, the only doctor in the area, knew more medicine would be needed to prevent an outbreak. Worryingly, the nearest medicine was kept in Anchorage, more than 1,000 miles away! As planes back in those days were unable to fly in Alaskan winters, a plan was forged to place the medicine onto a train to a town called Nenana, which was still 674 miles away from Nome.

To collect the medicine from Nenana a team of 150 dogs and 20 humans was dispatched from Nome. The team made the journey to Nenana without any issues and met the train successfully. However, they knew the journey back home would be far more difficult as doctors estimated the medicine could only withstand Alaska’s brutal winters temperatures (as low as -60°F) for 6 days.

On the difficult journey home several of the humans suffered from frostbite, and sadly many of the loyal sled dogs died. Thankfully though, the rest of the team made it home within 5 and a half days. At the time of their arrival Balto happened to be the lead dog at the front of the sledge, and so received the hero’s welcome and largest amount of fame.

In the 1990s an animated version of Balto’s journey was made; however, more credit should probably be given to Togo as he reportedly ran the the longest and hardest portion of the journey (over 350 miles). Although many people in the town did pass away from Diphtheria, the mission was a success as it prevented an outbreak from occurring. The news and publicity of the event helped fund further research into Diphtheria and led to the development of the Diphtheria vaccine that’s still in use today!

At Bowerland Holiday Cottages and Devon Dogs we provide specialist training workshops to help dogs with a variety of issues. Why not come along to one of our workshops, and help your dog be like Balto and Togo!

Read more Saturday Stories HERE.

Chris Green

About the Author: Chris Green works in the office at Bowerland Cottage Holidays and Devon Dogs, using his technical expertise to assist wherever needed. In his spare time he likes playing guitar and bass, and hiking around Dartmoor.

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