Balto

We are the proud owners of 2 Alaskan Malamutes (Balto & Teyah), 2 Bulldogs (Winnie & Ruby), a Siberian Husky (Nanuq), a Labrador (Jenny) and a Retriever x Labrador (Friday).

Balto’s story

We had Balto from the Alaskan Malamute Rescue Centre aged 18 months in February 2010. Following the obligatory home checks, we arranged to meet Balto (formerly known as Dylan) at Newport Beach, taking our Siberian Husky with us. This was half wayish between Haverfordwest and Bristol where he was coming from. His foster mum arrived with two malamutes so at first we weren’t sure which one was going to be our little man. The only difference between the 2 dogs was that one dog was normal malamute size and the other was huuuuge!!! Guess what? Ours was the huge one! My first thought was ‘how on earth are we going to get him in the car??!!’ but after we spent the next hour running around the sun dunes and splashing in the sea with our Nanuq, we were hooked!

Our home was his 4th one since he was born so he came to us suffering from separation anxiety which meant that every time we left the room, he would howl. He was obviously loved when he was a puppy because his original mum took him to puppy training classes. I’m guessing that as he continued to grow to a mammoth size he just got too big to handle which is why he was passed around so much at such an early age. He is however the most gentlest and sweetest little man I have ever had the pleasure to know.

At nearly 8 years old now, weighing in at 11 stone, his routine is fairly simple. Morning – toilet followed by breakfast, off with Dad for a stretch of the legs in the countryside sniffing out squirrels, home and back to bed, lunch – walkies, back to bed, afternoon – out with Daddy again, dinner, back to bed, evening – late walk howling at people walking through the dark alleyway and scaring the begeezers out of them (he loves doing that), back to bed.

He loves his food and howls with excitement at the sight of his bowl at feeding times but he will sit on command and give you his paw before you put the food down. He can give or take walkies depending on how lazy he’s feeling. He’s capable of waking up the neighbourhood if he decides he want to have a conversation with you and will answer back if you ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do.

He’s not too keen on being groomed but with his fur, its a daily chore that needs doing which means that you have to follow him around the house as he’ll get up and walk off half way through. He’s the daddy of the pack, allowing the other dogs to literally walk all over him and use him as a big fluffy pillow. He adores being talked to, kisses on the head and tummy rubs. Kids just love him and he’ll sit and lap up their cuddles and fusses all day long. He loves swimming and will go underwater whenever he gets the chance and goes mental in the snow.

We named Balto after a Siberian Husky who became rather famous in the 1920’s. Here’s his story –

The True Story Of Balto, A Husky Who Helped Save An Entire Alaskan Town From Death
How a “scrub dog” rose to the occasion and saved an entire town.

An outbreak of diphtheria in the 1920’s provided ample grounds for worry: Caused by bacteria that invades the nose, mouth, and throat, the disease usually develops in the throat and can make it hard to swallow and even cause a patient to suffocate. If diphtheria is not properly treated in time, the bacteria then produces a powerful poison that spreads throughout the body and causes serious complications such as heart failure or paralysis. By 1921, the infectious nose and throat disease had already led to the deaths of over 15,000 U.S. Citizens.

The disease posed a particular danger to isolated towns, as treatment could often be found almost exclusively in urban centers. On January 19th, 1925, this potentially deadly epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome’s children and the local hospital had run out of antitoxin for the disease; the only cure, an antitoxin, was located over 500 miles away in Anchorage. Add a brutal Alaskan winter that rendered almost all forms of travel impossible into the mix, and death seemed imminent. The best way for getting the serum to Nome in time was by plane, but the engine of the only plane that could deliver the medicine was frozen and would not start. However, multiple teams of sled dogs came to their rescue, and residents continue to celebrate one unlikely hero to this day.

The mushers pooled their resources and began to traverse the harsh terrain in a relay known as the Great Race of Mercy, or the 1925 serum run to Nome. With the only path connecting the two towns measuring a staggering 650 miles through the Alaskan wilderness, getting the necessary medication to Nome would have taken over a month, too long of a wait for such serious concerns. Breaking it up into several stretches, however, would take only a fraction of the time. It was finally decided that the fastest and most reliable way to transport the anti-toxin over the remaining distance was by using a relay of dog sled teams. It was estimated that the trip could take up to 13 days to complete. To complete the journey, 150 sled dogs had to run 1,085 km in five and a half days. And so it began on January 27, 1925, with musher “Wild Bill” Shannon.

In Anchorage, the serum was packed in a cylinder, wrapped in an insulating quilt, and then tied up in canvas for further protection. The package left Anchorage by train on Monday, January 26 and arrived the next night in Nenana, where it was turned over to the first musher, Shannon and his team of dogs who powered through the -50 degree temperatures toward Nome. Having lost four of his dogs along his journey, and with a nose which had blackened upon succumbing to frostbite, Shannon handed off the serum, which was relayed several times before reaching a team led by Leonhard Seppala.

A Norweigan-born musher and resident of Nome, Seppala imported a crack team of huskies from Siberia to pull the sled covering his portion of the journey — the most arduous leg of the trip. Seppala’s 12-year-old sled dog and companion Togo led the pack.

On the historic run of 1925, Togo led Seppala’s team over 170 miles in wind chill temperatures reaching as low as -85 F. Over expansive pools of frozen lakes, and climbing 5,000 feet up Little McKinley Mountain, the team journeyed until reaching musher Charlie Olson, who would pass the serum on to Gunnar Kaasen, finishing up the remaining 55 miles of the incredible journey.

With Kaasen we meet Balto, this story’s unlikely hero. Balto was a Siberian husky born in 1923 in Nome, Alaska. Before the serum run, no one would have predicted that the black and white Siberian Husky would go down in history. He spent the early part of his life as part of a dog team that transported supplies to miners in the surrounding area. Balto was actually considered to be a “scrub dog,” meaning an inferior or slow-working dog and as such would typically go overlooked when mushers positioned dogs to lead a team. Balto did not have the reputation of a good leader, and if Kaasen knew just how bad the storm was about to get on the way (a blizzard with −23 °F (-31 °C) temperatures and strong winds), he might have chosen his team differently. They succeeded: Kaasen delivered the lifesaving serum to Dr. Welch of Nome before dawn on February 2, just six days after the relay’s start.

Of the 674 miles that 20 mushers and around 150 dogs travelled, Balto and Kaasen only journeyed the last 55 and took 20 hours to complete. That’s not to say Balto didn’t earn his praise. At one point caught in a blizzard too devastating for Kaasen to see through, Balto led the way and never once steered off course and even stopped them in time before they plunged into certain death in the icy Topkok River.

On February 2 at 5.30 AM, the team finally arrived in Nome. Perhaps because Balto’s furry face entered the anxious town first, Nome residents and the world at large celebrated the canine immediately. The dogs were too tired to even bark, but the serum had successfully been delivered — only seven days after leaving Anchorage, and just 127 1/2 hours after leaving Nenana.

The press had been following the story for days, and Balto and the team instantly became famous. Balto appeared on the front cover of newspapers all over the world, and shortly afterwards appeared in a short Hollywood movie “Balto and the Race to Nome.” Kassen took Balto and the team on a nationwide tour, which concluded with the unveiling of a life size statue of Balto in New York City’s Central Park on December 17, 1925. Sculpted by F.G. Roth, the bronze sculpture is New York’s only statue commemorating a dog. The statue includes a plaque with an inscription that reads:

“Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed anti toxin 600 miles over treacherous waters, through arctic blizzards, from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925 – Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence”.

Balto’s first taste of fame was short-lived. When Kaasen wished to return home to Alaska, Balto and the team were soon sold to the highest bidder by the company who sponsored his tour. a “Vaudeville museum,” and Balto himself was used in different dime shows and stage acts. In 1927, while visiting Los Angeles, Cleveland resident George Kimble, a former prize fighter turned businessman, was shocked to discover the dogs were unhealthy and badly treated, living in horrible conditions, chained in a small area in a novelty museum and freak show in Los Angeles.

Kimble was outraged by the heroic dogs’ fate. So, he struck a deal with the dog’s owner to buy them for $2,000. But Kimble had only two weeks to raise the money. Now there was another race: to save Balto! Working together with the newspaper, The Plain Dealer, Kimble quickly started an appeal to raise the funds to buy them and bring Balto and his team to Cleveland, Ohio. Suddenly the nation became interested again. Radio broadcasts appealed for donations and headlines in the Cleveland Plain Dealer told of the push to rescue the heroes. Cleveland’s response was explosive. Schoolchildren collected coins in buckets; factory workers passed their hats; and hotels, stores and visitors donated what they could. The Western Reserve Kennel Club gave a much-needed financial boost. Kimble raised the money he needed and in just 10 days the headlines read, “City Smashes Over Top With Balto’s Fund! Huskies To Be Shipped From Coast at Once!”

On March 19 1927, Balto and his six companions were brought to Cleveland and given a hero’s welcome in a triumphant parade. The dogs were then taken to the Brookside Zoo (now the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) to live out their lives in dignity. It was said that 15,000 people visited the dogs on their first day at the zoo. Balto was the star attraction for six years until his death in 1933, aged 14. His body was preserved and mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, Ohio.

Balto’s legend still lives on today. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race has been run from Anchorage to Nome every year since 1973, and commemorates the role of dog teams in the settlement of Alaska and the heroic serum relay of 1925 that saved numerous lives. In 1995, Universal Studios released the popular animated family feature “Balto,” featuring the voices of Kevin Bacon and Bob Hoskins.

Today, some Alaskan schoolchildren are campaigning to bring Balto back to his home state, proposing that his body moved to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race museum in Wasilla. But Cleveland officials aren’t ready to give Balto back, noting he spent more than half his life in their city. There are plans in the works, however, for Balto to return to Alaska at least temporarily, as part of an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.



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