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You’ve got the wrong dog: Balto isn't the true hero of the 1925 serum run to Nome

2 pictures of dog Togo and handler Leonhard Seppala dog-wow
© Dogalevcilhayvanbesinleri / Danyorl - Instagram

With Disney’s tacit release of its adventure film 'Togo' comes a flurry of interest in the long-forgotten heroism of men and dogs in 1925. Here’s a little bit of a spoiler… 

By Nick Whittle

Published on the 17/10/2020, 21:00, Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:24

In the deepest Alaskan winter of 1924 the doctors and nurses of a small hospital in Nome fought a losing battle. Dr Curtis Welch – the only practitioner in the town – and his bevvy of nurses came face to face with an outbreak of Diphtheria: a lethal and highly infectious disease that primarily affects children.  

One of the only known treatments for the condition was an antitoxin serum. Unfortunately, by the time Dr Welch had diagnosed the first case the hospital’s entire batch was gone. 

Against all the odds

With the weather closing in, the delivery of a new batch of serum by plane or boat was ruled out. Faced with the prospect of a lethal epidemic, Dr Welch and the town council organised a delivery of the serum by the only other known method: the dogsled.

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One of the foremost teams then assembled comprised Norwegian Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Husky Togo, with whom Seppala had an excellent rapport. 12-year-old Togo, 10 other dogs, and their handler began their epic 630 mile round trip between Nome and Nulato at the end of January.

Mammoth relay 

When it became clear the journey would be impossible to finish alone, they joined a relay of 20 other drivers and 150 dogs to cover the distance, and the serum was delivered to Nome on February 2nd. 

19 teams ran an average of 31 miles to cover the journey. Seppala and Togo's team ran 264. But because Balto was the lead dog when the serum arrived in Nome, he was the dog who got all the fame, including a statue in New York's Central Park.

Hero of 1925 serum run to Nome

Luckily, it looks like Togo is finally getting his long-overdue recognition. In 2011, Time Magazine named him the most heroic animal of all time. And Disney has created a beautiful film in his honour.

If you haven't seen it yet, head over to Disney Plus, and ... bring tissues!