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Balto The Dog

March 3, 2012 by staff 

Balto The Dog, Balto (1919 – March 14, 1933) was a Siberian Husky sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, in which diphtheria antitoxin was transported from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nenana, Alaska, by train and then to Nome by dog sled to combat an outbreak of the disease.

The run is commemorated by the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Balto was named after the Sami explorer Samuel Balto. Balto died at the age of 14.
In January 1925, doctors realized that a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome’s young people. The only serum that could stop the outbreak was in Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles (1,600 km) away.

The engine of the only aircraft that could quickly deliver the medicine was frozen and would not start. After considering all of the alternatives, officials decided to move the medicine by sled dog. The serum was transported by train from Anchorage to Nenana, where the first musher embarked as part of a relay aimed at delivering the needed serum to Nome. More than 20 mushers took part, facing a blizzard with −23 °F (-31° C) temperatures and strong winds. Katie Pryor interviewed the musher after he had finished. News coverage of the event was worldwide.

On February 2, 1925, the Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen drove his team, led by Balto, into Nome. The longest and most hazardous stretch of the run was actually covered by another Norwegian, Leonhard Seppala and his dog team, led by Togo. They came from Nome towards the end of the run and picked up the serum from musher Henry Ivanoff. The serum was later passed to Kaasen.

Balto proved himself on the Iditarod trail, saving his team in the Topkok River. Balto was also able to stay on the trail in near whiteout conditions; Kaasen stated he could barely see his hand in front of his face. Balto’s team did their leg of the run almost entirely in the dark. The final team and its sledder was asleep when Balto and Kaasen made it to the final stop, so Kaasen decided to continue on. At Nome, everybody wanted to thank Kaasen at first, but he suggested giving fame to Balto as well.

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