Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Dog Named Balto

This is the true story of another brave and famous dog.  His name was Balto, and he was a sled dog in Alaska.  As you can see from the photo, he was black-and-white, like me, which is one thing that made him very special.

But the main way Balto got to be famous was that in 1925, the children in Nome, Alaska, were about to get sick because of a disease called diptheria.  Nome is way up in the really, really north part of Alaska, and it was hard to get there in the winter, which is when this happened.  There was some medicine called antitoxin that could save people from dying of diptheria, but this medicine was located in Anchorage, which was a long way from Nome.

At first, people thought they could fly a plane to Nome with the medicine, but there was only one plane that they could use, and it was all frozen up, so they couldn't get its engine to run.  That's why they decided to send the medicine by dog sled.  So first the medicine went to a town called Nenana in a train, and after that, a bunch of dog sleds took it in a relay to Nome.

The last dog sled team to carry the medicine was led by Balto, and the "musher," which is what you call the person driving a dog team, was a man named Gunnar Kaasen.  Mr. Kaasen was Norwegian, which is why he had such a strange name.  Balto got his name from another Norwegian whose name was Samuel Balto.  Mr. Balto was a famous explorer who lived way up north of the Arctic Circle.

Balto wasn't usually a lead dog in a sled team, but he got to be the lead dog this time, and he turned out to be very smart when it came to keeping his team on the trail, even though it was nighttime and there was a blizzard going on.  So when the medicine arrived in Nome, everyone said that Balto was a hero.

But there was another hero during this event, and that was a sled dog named Togo, who was the leader of the team that handed the medicine off to Balto's team.  Togo's team also had a very hard time because of the weather and all the bad stuff going on, but Togo led them bravely through it all.  The musher of that team was named Leonhard Seppala, and he was actually the owner of Balto, too.  He thought Togo should get as much fame as Balto, but it didn't work out that way.

Here's a picture of Togo and Mr. Seppala on the left, and Balto with Mr. Kaasen on the right.

Anyway, in the end, Balto got all the fame and glory, and the people of New York City made a statue of Balto and put it in Central Park, near the children's zoo.

When Balto got old, he was living at the Cleveland Zoo, and that's where he died in 1933.  So the people of Cleveland stuffed him and put him in the museum there.  Later, the Alaskans wanted Balto to be in their museum instead, but the Cleveland people said no.  However, they let the stuffed Balto go to Alaska for a visit.

So that's the story of how Balto led the sled dog team to Nome and saved all the children there from dying of diptheria.  Nowadays, dog sleds aren't used so much for freight hauling and stuff like they used to be.  But every year there is a big race called the Iditarod, and a bunch of mushers and their teams compete to see who can run the trail the fastest.  It is a very hard race that lasts for several days, and it's dangerous because of the weather and also because there are polar bears lurking around, and they like to eat dogs.  Here's a map that shows where the Iditarod Trail goes.

But just in case you think that only huskies and Malamutes can pull dog sleds, here's a picture of a basenji sled dog team.  We don't know who took this photo or even if it's for real, but someone posted it on a basenji internet list one time, and Mom saved the photo because she thinks it's funny.  I don't think the photo is funny at all.  I think what it shows is that basenjis can be noble and brave, just like Balto and Togo.


  1. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race. No one knows how many dogs die after this tortuous ordeal or during training.

    On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

    Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

    Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

    Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

    During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

    Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

    The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

    Margery Glickman
    Sled Dog Action Coalition,

    1. Oh my gosh, this is sickening. I am visiting your website, now. I had no idea they treat sled dogs like this and create puppy mills.

  2. The basenji sled dog team is real, the owner and trainer pictured with the team is Annie Davis of Idaho.

    1. Thanks! This is good information to know. I'm glad the basenjis are real and not just photoshopped or something like that. But I worry about their little white feet getting cold!
      Sincerely, Piper