Togo (dog)

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Togo
Species Canis lupus familiaris
Breed Siberian Husky
Sex Male
Born October 1913
Died December 5, 1929 (aged 16)
Poland Spring, Maine
Occupation Sled dog
Known for 1925 serum run to Nome
Owner Leonhard Seppala
Parents Suggen
Named after Tōgō Heihachirō

Togo (October 1913 – December 5, 1929) was the lead sled dog of Leonhard Seppala and his dog sled team in the 1925 serum run to Nome across central and northern Alaska.

Background[edit]

Togo was one of the offspring of Seppala's former lead dog, "Suggen".[1] He was named after the Japanese admiral Tōgō Heihachirō.[2] Initially, he did not appear to have potential as a sled dog. He grew to about 48 pounds (22 kg) in adulthood, which was small for a Siberian Husky, and had a black, brown, and gray coat that made him appear perpetually dirty.[3]

Togo had been sick as a young puppy and had required intensive nursing from Seppala's wife. He was bold and rowdy, thus he was seen as "difficult and mischievous", showing "all the signs of becoming a ... canine delinquent" according to one reporter. At first, this behavior was interpreted as evidence that he had been spoiled by the individual attention given to him during his illness. As he did not seem suited to be a sled dog, Seppala gave him away to be pet dog at 6 months of age.[3]

After only a few weeks as a house pet, Togo jumped through the glass of a closed window and ran several miles back to his original master's kennel. This devotion to the team impressed Seppala, so he did not try to give him away again. However, Togo continued to cause trouble by breaking out of the kennel when Seppala took the team out on runs. He would attack the lead dogs of oncoming teams, "as if ... to clear the way for his master". However, one day, he attacked a much stockier malamute leader and was mauled and severely injured. When he recovered, he stopped attacking other teams' lead dogs. This would eventually prove a valuable early experience, as it was difficult to teach a lead dog to keep a wide berth of oncoming teams.[3]

When Togo was 8 months old, he proved his worth as a sled dog. He had run after the team yet again and slept, unnoticed, near the cabin where Seppala was spending the night. The next day, Seppala spotted him far off in the distance, and understood why his dogs had been so keyed up. Togo continued to make Seppala's work difficult, trying to play with the work dogs and leading them in "charges against reindeer", pulling them off the trail. Seppala had no choice but to put him in a harness to control him, and was surprised that Togo instantly settled down. As the run wore on, the musher was impressed and kept moving him up the line, until Togo finally ended up as partner to the lead dog. His first run thus totaled 75 miles (121 km), a "feat unheard of for an inexperienced puppy". Seppala came to the conclusion that Togo's mischievous behavior up until that point had been his way of showing that he wanted to be on the team with his kennel mates.[3]

Togo began training and, after a few years, filled the vacated lead dog position. He became one of Seppala's most treasured dogs, a close and mutually beneficial relationship that would continue to the end of Togo's life. At the time of the historic Serum Run, he was 12 years old and had been a lead dog for 7 years.[3]

Great Race of Mercy[edit]

The first batch of 300,240 units of serum was delivered by train from Anchorage to Nenana, Alaska, where it was picked up by the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the serum a total of 674 miles (1,085 km) to Nome.

Togo and Seppala traveled 170 miles (274 km) from Nome in three days, and picked up the serum in Shaktoolik on January 31.[4] The temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C), and the gale force winds causing a wind chill of −85 °F (−65 °C).

The return trip crossed the exposed open ice of the Norton Sound. The night and a ground blizzard prevented Seppala from being able to see the path but Togo navigated to the roadhouse at Isaac's Point on the shore by 8 PM preventing certain death to his team. After traveling 84 miles (134 km) in one day, the team slept for six hours before continuing at 2 PM.

Before the night the temperature dropped to −40 °F (−40 °C), and the wind increased to 65 mi/h (105 km/h). The team ran across the ice, which was breaking up, while following the shoreline. They returned to shore to cross Little McKinley Mountain, climbing 5,000 feet (1,500 m). After descending to the next roadhouse in Golovin, Seppala passed the serum to Charlie Olsen, who in turn would pass it to Gunnar Kaasen and Balto.

Aftermath[edit]

After the successful serum run, the freight dog Balto became the most famous canine of the run. Many mushers today consider Togo to be the true hero of the run, as Seppala's team led by Togo covered the longest and most hazardous leg. They made a round trip of 365 miles. After that, Togo could never run again.

Immediately after the relay, Togo and another dog on the team escaped to chase after reindeer, eventually returning to their kennel in Little Creek. Seppala was dismayed that the champion was neglected by the press, commenting "it was almost more than I could bear when the newspaper dog Balto received a statue for his 'glorious achievements'". (Salisbury & Salisbury, 2003.)

In October 1926, Seppala, Togo, and a team of dogs went on a tour from Seattle, Washington to California; Seppala and Togo drew large crowds at stadiums and department stores, and even appeared in a Lucky Strike cigarette campaign. In New York City, Seppala drove his team from the steps of City Hall along Fifth Avenue and made a pass through Central Park. The team appeared multiple times at Madison Square Garden, which was being managed by Tom Rickard, formerly of Nome, and where Togo was awarded a gold medal by Roald Amundsen.

In New England, they competed in several dog sled races against local Chinooks and won by huge margins. As a result, Siberian huskies became popular in Maine, and Seppala sold most of his team to a local kennel. The popularity led to their recognition as an official breed by the American Kennel Club in 1930, and most Siberian huskies in America are descended from a serum run participant.

Togo retired in Poland Spring, Maine, where he was euthanized on December 5, 1929 at 16 years old. The headline in The New York Sun Times the next day was "Dog Hero Rides to His Death" (Salisbury & Salisbury, 2003), and he was eulogized in many other papers. After his death, Seppala had him custom mounted. Today the mounted skin is on display in a glass case at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters museum in Wasilla, Alaska. The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University has his skeleton in their collection.

Legacy[edit]

Togo greatly impacted the modern day Siberian Husky. Many modern trainers of Siberian Huskies trace their dogs' lineage back to Togo. This has never been definitely proven. The most common sled dog breed is actually the Alaskan Husky, a variant of the Siberian Husky.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bonnier Corporation (April 1927). Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation. p. 20. ISSN 01617370. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Houdek, Jennifer; Brown, Tricia. "Togo and Balto, Dog Heroes". LitSite Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved November 14, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Gay Salisbury, Laney Salisbury (2003). The Cruelest Miles. W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 159–60. ISBN 0-393-01962-4. 
  4. ^ Houdek, Jennifer. "The Serum Run of 1925". LitSite Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved November 14, 2012.