The True Story of Balto, the Dog that Became a Hero

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. April 23, 2017
The True Story of Balto, the Dog that Became a Hero

Animal file: Siberian Husky

The story of Balto is one of the most captivating real events in US history and proves that dogs are capable of incredible feats. So much so, Balto's adventure hit movie screens in 1995, in the eponymous film, Balto.

AnimalWised will now tell you the true story of Balto, the dog that became a hero. Keep reading, you won't want to miss this!

You may also be interested in: The True Story of Hachiko - The Faithful Dog

The eskimo dog of Nome

Balto was a Siberian husky who was born in Nome, a small town in Alaska in 1923. This breed, although originating from Russia, was taken to American territory in 1905 to work in mushing. Mushing is a term for sport or transport powered by dogs. Siberian huskies were more resilient and lighter than the Alaskan malamute, the original dogs of the area, so they were very useful.

At the time, the annual All-Alaska Sweepstakes dog sled race, which ran from Nome to Candle, was very popular and comprised 408 miles in total. During this time, the future owner of Balto, Leonhard Seppala, was an experienced musher and participated in various competitions and races.

In 1925, when the temperatures were around -30 ° C, the town of Nome was affected by diphtheria. Diphtheria is a serious bacterial disease that can be fatal and is usually seen in young children. Unfortunately, the diphtheria vaccine was not available in Nome, so a telegram was sent to find out where they could find more injections. The closest ones were in the city of Anchorage, 537 miles away. Sadly, it was not possible to use air or sea transport, as a winter storm prevented the use of the routes.

The True Story of Balto, the Dog that Became a Hero - The eskimo dog of Nome

The story of Balto

When they realized they could not receive the necessary vaccines, about 20 inhabitants of Nome committed themselves to a dangerous journey. It took over 100 sled dogs for the mission to look for the injections. It was possible to move the material from Anchorage to Nenana, a city somewhat closer to Nome, 483 miles away.

The 20 guides designed a system of relays that made the transfer of vaccines possible. One of the most prominent was Gunner Kaassen, guide of squadron B, in which was Balto. During the impromptu race, all those involved endured temperatures of around -40 ° C, strong winds, icy paths and complicated mountainous areas. In fact, many humans and dogs died in their attempt to save the young population of Nome.

There are several theories about what happened with the last group of dogs, guided by Gunner. Some suggest that it was Balto who led the dogs all the way (although he was not a guide dog). Others say that the guide dog could not orient himself and it has also been suggested that the guide broke leg. What is certain, is that Balto took the command of the race, although many had little faith in him.

In only five and a half days, squadron B finally arrived at Nome with the diphtheria vaccine. Perhaps it was because of his hybridization, or because it was not expected that an untrained dog could lead the rest, but the truth is that Balto was able to find the way and in much less time than expected.

The True Story of Balto, the Dog that Became a Hero - The story of Balto

Balto's final days

It is important to note that Balto was not the original name of this dog, but Togo. He was given this name in memory of the Norwegian explorer Samuel Balto, popular in Nome during the gold rush.

Sadly, Balto was sold, along with other dogs to Cleveland Zoo, where he lived until 14 years of age. Balto died on March 14, 1933. Later he was embalmed and we can now find him at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

From then on, every March, Iditarod's polar dog race, which runs from Anchorage to Nome,

is celebrated in memory of Balto. And of course, all who participated in that dangerous adventure.

The True Story of Balto, the Dog that Became a Hero - Balto's final days

The Balto statue in Central Park

Balto made such an impact on the world, that a statue was erected in Central Park, New York by FG ​​Roth. This statue is dedicated exclusively to this four-legged hero, who is considered to have saved the lives of many children of Nome.

It reads:

"Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925.

Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence"

The True Story of Balto, the Dog that Became a Hero - The Balto statue in Central Park

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jeff Boutwell
go Togo an Underdog named for an underdog!!
This story is far from the truth. as Cathy wrote, Togo was the true hero who ran over 250 miles where as Balto did the last leg of 50.
During the serum run, he was not a lead dog, he was paired up with a dog named Fox.
This is NOT AT ALL THE WHOLE STORY. I fact the name change is also incorrect. TOGO was the real hero that ran the toughest part of the trip . Balto was the one that had the last leg that everyone got to see .
After the delivery of the medicine, Balto and his team went on a vaudeville circuit and ended up in a dime museum (so much for “damn fine dog!”) a Chicago businessman thought that was a terrible way for them to live The museum sold them for $2000 school children, factory workers and citizens of Cleveland raised the money in 10 days.
* Balto was not Togo. Togo ran the longer harder part of the journey
Shirley Miller
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I visited the zoo with my parents several times a year, mostly to see those dogs because I was fascinated by the story. I married and moved to San Diego in 1958. Within 6 months of being here, we met another young couple who would become our lifelong best friends. The wife was the former Nancy Reynolds who was the daughter of Fletcher Reynolds, the director of the Cleveland zoo who arranged for the dogs to go there. She had some wonderful stories to tell about the dogs when she worked at the zoo as a teen. She also had one of Balto’s pups (Boots), I only wish I had met this family when I was a child and could have enjoyed a more personal history with those brave dogs. However, they were never “pets.” One other interesting fact, The Reynolds family lived across the street from my husband’s brother and his family for a period of five years, but they never met. Somehow, I have to believe we were destined to be friends.
Administrador AnimalWised
Thank you so much for sharing!
John Frank
Yes he’s a true hero. I maybe encourage his history and I will remember his story no matter what.
But why was he sold?
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