The Balto/Togo Misunderstanding

In Alaska, in January of 1925, a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome. However, the only serum which was able to stop the outbreak was in Anchorage, and the only aircraft with the ability to quickly deliver the serum had a frozen engine and was impossible to start. So it was finally decided to deliver the serum via multiple dog sled teams; a train transported the serum from Anchorage to Nenana and the first musher embarked on the mission. Over twenty mushers took part in the whole thing, facing blizzards, strong wind, and -23 °F weather. The event was covered in the news worldwide.
The famous story of Balto the sled dog is that he led the team who covered the distance into Nome on the second of February, 1925. Multiple films were made concerning the famous hero. However, what many people did not and do not know is that the longest and most hazardous stretch of the journey was actually accomplished by a totally different sled dog. But the people who witnessed Balto completing the journey were confused and thought that Balto had done most of the work. Thus his fame became huge and Togo was a more rare mention during the story of the 1925 serum-run to Nome. In fact, people are often unaware that there was more than one dog sled team at all.
The story of Togo (named after a Japanese admiral), the agouti-furred offspring of Norwegian musher Leonhard Seppala’s former dog sled leader, Suggen, was that he was thought unfit to be assigned to work and didn’t have the potential for a proper sled dog. At six months of age, Seppala sent him away to a different owner to be a house pet. However, Togo jumped through the glass of a closed window and ran several miles back to the kennel of his original master. Impressed by the devotion Togo expressed, Seppala let the rambunctious ‘canine delinquent’ stay. Togo continued to cause mischief, especially by breaking out of the kennel, confronting oncoming dog sled teams and attacking the leaders. But, after being seriously mauled and injured by a stocky Malamute, he learned never to do so again.
But Togo wasn’t done. He played with the working dogs and led them off the trails on charges against reindeer while they pulled the sled. Finally, Seppala had no choice but to put Togo in the harness, and to his surprise, Togo settled down; he proved his worth as a sled dog at eight months of age. Togo continued to be moved up the line until, at the end of the day, he was sharing the lead position with a dog named Russky. Togo had logged 75 miles on his first day in harness, which was unheard of for an inexperienced young sled dog, especially a puppy. Seppala called him an “infant prodigy”, and later added that “I had found a natural-born leader, something I had tried for years to breed”.
And Togo was an infant prodigy. He led the team through many miles and dangerous types of weather to reach Nome but, after being replaced by Balto in the last leg of the journey, the misunderstanding took place.
Balto’s remains were mounted by a taxidermist and exhibited in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Togo’s remains were taxidermied and mounted where visitors were actually able to pet him, resulting in the thinning and falling out of his fur. However, his remains were rescued and more well-preserved; today the mounted skin is now properly on display in a glass case in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters museum, and his skeleton was mounted separately and is now in possession of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
They’re heroes, and its good to give both of them credit for the crucial roles they played in saving lives, not to mention all of the other mushers, but I would think that Balto shouldn’t be the main collector of glory and fame.

Gunnar Kaasen with Balto.jpgTogo the dog 2014-06-17 22-40.jpg
Left to right: Balto, with his owner Gunnar Kaasen, and Togo, assumedly with Leonhard Seppala


Sled Dogs

Sled dogs were significant for transportation in arctic areas such as Canada and Alaska, pulling loads when other forms of conveyances were unavailable. They were especially active helpers during the Alaskan gold rush and the explorations of both the North and South Poles. In rural communities, sled dogs were frequently used to deliver mail where it was less easy to do so in any other way. However, though sled dogs are still used in Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Lapland, etc., and throughout Greenland, their most popular occupation is during recreational activities and sports, especially sled dog racing such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail.
The Iditarod Trail is an annual sled dog race which runs over a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome. The race is run in early March, entirely within Alaska, and had begun in 1973 for the purpose of testing the best sled dog mushers and teams, since then evolving into a competitive race that runs for entertainment. The Iditarod Trail consists of mushers and a team of sixteen sled dogs, at least five of which are supposed to be on the towline during the finish, who may cover the distance in eight to fifteen days; they generally race through blizzards, subzero temperature, and weather that can cause the windchill to reach –100 °F.

The modern racing sled is generally lightweight and flexible, usually built from ash laced together by nylon and leather, and the musher (driver) can use a foot brake which uses claws to dig into the snow as well as a pronged metal claw called a snow hook which can temporarily keep the sled dogs stationary. They can also use booties to protect the sled dogs’ feet from adverse trail conditions or for extra protection from previously injured paws; booties are rectangular socks secured by a length of Velcro, made from light and durable material such as fleece, which are made to slip over each paw. Mushers may utilize handlers to assist in the care of their sled team, but usually the mushers hold themselves responsible for the general feeding and training of their dogs, fostering a better sense of kinship and trust between them.
When the musher shouts Gee or Haw, meaning the order for a right or left turn, the sled dog leaders who understand such commands are referred to as command leaders, or gee/haw leaders. Nevertheless, some dogs who don’t understand these commands are used as leaders anyway, based on their instinctive ability to find trails even in snow-blown country. Directly behind the lead dogs are the backup leaders who assist the leaders in their tasks, called point or swing dogs. Behind the swing dogs, directly ahead of the sled, are the wheel dogs; because the wheel dogs were used to help the musher keep a heavy load on the trail, they were traditionally chosen as larger dogs. All dogs who run between the swing dogs and the wheel dogs are referred to as team dogs, being the ones who produce the endurance and power to actually pull the sled.

Sled dogs are typically Siberian or Alaskan Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Chinooks, Canadian Eskimo dogs, or Greenland dogs. The Alaskan Husky is the breed most commonly used for dog sled racing, and Malamutes were the dogs of choice chosen for hauling and messenger work in World War II. Canadian Eskimo dogs were also used to help Inuit hunters catch seals, Muskoxen, and Polar bears, and the Chinook breed was developed as a drafting and sled dog in New Hampshire. Greenland dogs, of which there are more than 30,000 living in Greenland, are a primary mode of transportation during the winter; most Greenland hunters favor them above snowmachines because they were more reliable.
Among famous sled dogs are Togo, Balto, and Anna, and there are numerous stories of blind dogs who persist to run despite their deprivations.


Appaloosa Horse

The Appaloosa is a horse breed originated in the United States, and the original American breed was developed by the Nez Perce. The Appaloosa was known by settlers as the Palouse Horse, perhaps after the Palouse River which ran through Nez Perce territory, and the name evolved gradually into Appaloosa.

The Appaloosa horse is a breed recognized for the colorful spotted patterns on its coat. It varies from the leopard coat, a spotted Dalmatian-like pattern, to a few-spot leopard coat or a ‘blanket,’ a ‘snowcap’ of spots. Most representatives have mottled skin and striped hooves, and when the eye is in normal vision the sclera, or the white of the eye, is visible.

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Left-right: Blanket, or snowcap; leopard horse pattern

The Appaloosa horse is currently one of the most popular horse breeds in the United States. In 1975 it was named the official state horse of Idaho, and the Appaloosa has been in many movies and is the mascot of the Florida State Seminoles. The bloodlines of the Appaloosa have influenced other horse breeds, among them the Pony of the Americas and the Nez Perce Horse. The Appaloosa is used chiefly in western riding disciplines, but it is a versatile breed which has adapted to other kinds of equestrian activity. The registry of the modern breed allows the addition of some American Quarter-horse, Thoroughbred, and Arabian horse blood.

The weight of the Appaloosa horse ranges from 950 to 1,250 pounds, and the original breed of Appaloosa was a tall and narrow-bodied horse and rangy horse. According to the ApHC (Appaloosa Horse Club), the Appaloosa is favored to be a reliable family horse and has an easy-going disposition.

Homing Pigeon

Messenger pigeons are a domestic breed derived from the common rock pigeon, bred selectively for its ability to find its way home over a long distance. They are believed to use magnetoreception, which is a sense using the detection of the earth’s magnetic field for navigation. During wars, homing pigeons were used for their service in carrying messages as messenger pigeons.

Research has been performed with the intention of determining the cause of homing pigeons’ navigational ability to find their way back to far-distanced locations after being transported to places they’ve never visited before. Scientists discovered that there was a large number of iron particles on the top of their beaks, which acted as a compass aligned for determining their home. Some research suggests that homing pigeons use low-frequency sound for their navigation. It was observed that sound waves as low as 0.1 Hz disrupted or redirected pigeon navigation. The ear of a pigeon is too small to interpret such long waves, directing them to circle around after first taking flight, in order to mentally map such long low-frequency waves.

(Homing Pigeon)

Pigeons use landmarks to guide them as well. Other research indicates that some pigeons navigate with the guidance of man-made features, like roads, and making 90-degree turns and following habitual routes which are mentally marked for their navigation. According to GPS studies, gravitational anomalies also play a role in their navigation.

As postal carriers, homing pigeons were able to carry as much as 2.5 oz on their backs. A German apothecary named Julius Gustav Neubronner was known to use pigeons for delivering urgent medication. In 1977 a carrier pigeon service was set up between two English hospitals, for the transportation of laboratory specimens. Until the closure of one of the hospitals in 1983, the 30 carrier pigeons were used to deliver unbreakable vials back to Plymouth. A similar system existed in the 1980’s between two French hospitals, located in Avranche and Granville.

Birds were used extensively during World War I and World War II. Among the pigeons used during war were the Irish pigeon, Paddy, the American G. I. Joe and the English Mary of Exeter, all of which were awarded the Dickin Medal. Cher Ami, a homing pigeon used during WWI, was famous for delivering 12 important messages despite serious injuries. Birds were of vital use in the Invasion of Normandy, as radios could not be used for fear of interception from the enemy.

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(Left to right: Cher Ami and Paddy)


German Shepherd

The German shepherd is a breed of medium to large-sized working-dog which originated from Germany (hence its name, which is sometimes abbreviated to GSD for German Shepherd Dog in English). The German shepherds were developed originally for herding sheep,  as part of the Herding Group. However, since that time they also play roles in disability assistance, police and military use, search-and-rescue, and acting.

German shepherds most commonly come in sable, all-black or pure-white. They usually have tan and black coloring with a black mask and the classic, black ‘saddle’ or ‘blanket’ over the back. German shepherd coats are accepted in variations of long and medium length. They have two-layer coats, and the undercoat is thick and dense. They have a bushy tail which reaches the hock (a joint between the tarsal bones and tibia of a quadrupedal mammal, such as a horse, dog or cat), strong jaws and a black nose.

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The German shepherd is a moderately active and self-assured dog breed. They are excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions because of their curiosity. They are highly intelligent and obedient, but they can also sometimes become over-protective of family members, especially if they are not socialized correctly. However, they are known to be inclined to become immediate friends with strangers despite the fact that they were reported once to be the breed third most likely to attack a person. They were also reported to have an incredibly strong bite.

Controversy over the German shepherd includes a dispute over soundness in a show-train breed. They were criticized for having a sloping topline which caused poor gait in the hind legs. An orthopedic vet said, remarking on footage of German shepherds in the show ring, that they were ‘not normal.’

German Shepherd Dog lying in three-quarter view with front paws crossed

German shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence and working ability; they were ranked the breed third in intelligence, behind the border collie and the poodle. Along with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable for playing roles specifically in the police, guard and search-and-rescue work. Many are famous for taking part as heroes in war.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) sums up the GSD as ‘confident, courageous and smart,’ and the life expectancy is 7-10 years of age.



Spitz dogs are a breed well suited for the harsh northern climates it inhabits as a sled dog. Spitz is often characterized by long and thick fur, often white, and with pointed ears and muzzles and a tail which is usually curled over the dog’s back.

Spitz dogs have also been used to herd and hunt. They often have a waterproof undercoat which has thermal  insulation, which is also thicker than the overcoat to trap warmth. Risk of frostbite is reduced by the small size of their ears, and dense fur which grows on their paws protects them from sharp ice.

Spitz, with their small ears and muzzles, thick coats, furry ruffs and curled tails, have been bred into non-working companions intended to be lapdogs. This trend is most evident in the miniscule Pomeranian, which was originally a much larger dog, and closer to the size of a Keeshond before being bred down to make an acceptably small animal. The Keeshond, the Wolfspitz variation of the German Spitz dog, was widely known as the national dog of the Netherlands; it is an affectionate, loyal, and energetic pet which have been bred as watchdogs for barges (hence the name Dutch Barge Dog). Often, these breeds were recognized for their evidently ‘smiling’ mouths. 

Many spitz breeds such as the Akita and the Chow Chow retain wolflike characteristics which puts them in need of much training and socialization before they become well managed in urban environment.

Until the 19th century three of the largest spitz, Canadian Eskimo dog, Greenland dog, and Alaskan malamute, were used to pull sleds. During the 19th century, fur trapping and sled dog racing became businesses which produced a great deal of profit, and the smaller and faster Siberian husky quickly became a breed with popular use in Alaska and Canada. Also, several sources claim that spitz dogs are more prone to rabies than most other types of dogs.

The exact origin of spitz dogs is unknown, but most modern spitz seen today are originated from Siberia and the Arctic region.


Greyhound Racing

Greyhound racing is a competitive sport for which betting on the outcome is allowed to the public. Greyhound racing is organized into two forms, specifically running a normally oval track, and coursing. Track racing is known for the use of an artificial lure, which travels ahead of the competitors throughout the race and subsides when the finish line has been passed.

Greyhound racing is purely amateur in many countries, with the exception of Australia, Ireland, Macau, Mexico, Spain, the US and the UK; for those countries, greyhound racing is a part of the gambling industry, and though similar, it is far less profitable than horse racing. In some countries, the dog trainers of commercial racing industries illegally use live baiting. Animal rights and animal welfare groups are critical of the welfare of dogs participating in those greyhound racing industries, and a greyhound adoption movement was aroused to assist retired racing dogs into the finding of new homes; for this, there is an estimated 90% adoption rate in the US.

In the year 2016, a bill to ban greyhound racing was passed in the government of New South Wales, in Australia. This new law was supposed to come into effect in the middle of 2017,  but it was reversed in late 2016, although with several restrictions new to the industry.

[Greyhounds rounding a bend]

    Greyhound adoption groups frequently reported that dogs retired from the racetrack had tooth problems; the cause was debated. The groups also found that often the adopted greyhounds carried tick-born diseases and parasites which resulted from improper preventive treatments. Overall, animal welfare was critical of the greyhound racing industries, which they thought to be cruel, inhumane and concealing evidence of wrongdoing; for those reasons specifically, it was a large source of controversy in the 1980s.