The Siberian Husky were bred and raised by the Chukchi people of Russia, for thousands of years. This tribe of Siberian nomads needed dogs that could offer fast, efficient transportation over the enormous frozen Tundra. Known for their gentle nature, Siberian Huskies often served as soft, furry beds for the children, hence the phrase "three dog night". Powerful and agile, this average size dog was able to swiftly cover extensive distances on a nominal amount of food.
The Siberian Husky andr the Chukchi people developed a special relationship derived from mutual need and nurtured by shared respect. In the virtual isolation of the tundra, they thrived together for centuries before the outside world discovered and fell in love with this magnificent dog. Although the Siberian Husky of modern day has changed since entering this country in the early 1900s, the breed still maintains many of the qualities that made the Chukchi sled dog such a prized possession.
The first Siberian Husky was introduced into the United States in Alaska by a trader in 1908. They were used for pulling sleds. These dogs started winning Alaskan races almost instantly. The word was spreading about this superior strain of sled dog in Siberia.
The first Siberian Husky team made its appearance in the 1909 All Alaska Sweepstakes Race. Charles Fox Maule Ramsay and his team imported a large number of Huskies to Alaska that year. Driven by John "Iron Man" Johnson, they won the grueling 408-mile race in 1910. Siberian Huskies, particularly those bred and raced by Leonhard Seppala, captured most of the racing titles in Alaska over a ten year span, where the rugged terrain was ideally suited to the endurance capabilities of the breed. Leonhard Seppala and became famous for his outstanding racing Siberians. One particularly famous lead dog of Seppala's was Togo. from about 1917 to 1925 Togo was Seppala's permanent leader, although Seppala frequently used him as a lead dog even before 1917. Togo was the most famous and most traveled dog in Alaska, with many racing victories to his credit. He was scrappy, fast, and brilliant.
Togo was instrumental in saving many lives in the Alaskan village of Nome. In January 1925, doctors realized that a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome's young people. Unfortunately for them, the only serum that could stop the outbreak was nearly a thousand miles away, in Anchorage. The only aircraft that could quickly deliver the medicine had been dismantled for the winter. Officials, In desperation, turned to a much lower-tech solution: moving the medicine by sled dog.
The serum was transported by railroad from Anchorage to Nenana, the train stop closest the trail that led to Nome. Yet, the distance from Nenana to Nome was still more than 670 miles, and the serum had to be transported across rough, potentially deadly terrain. Battling temperatures that rarely rose above 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, more than 20 mushers took part, battling winds that sometimes blew strong enough to knock over sleds and dogs. Reporters brought news of the race to a world suddenly transfixed by the drama in the far north.
Led by Togo, Leonhard Seppala's team ran 91 miles, the longest and most dangerous leg of the relay, including a treacherous stretch over the unpredictable ice of Norton Sound. Togo faithfully led his team into a gale force winds, on the way to the handoff to the next musher. Seppala's team covered more than 260 miles, out from Nome and back, in the serum run
On February 2, 1925, just six days later, Gunner Kaassen drove his heroic dog team lead by a husky named Balto, into the streets of Nome. Balto’s furry face soon became known around the world. A year later, in honor of the epic trek, admirers erected a statue of Balto in New York City's Central Park. The statue is inscribed with the following:
“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”
Balto was suddenly a world-famous celebrity; for two years after the serum run, the dog and some of his teammates traversed the continental United States as part of a traveling show. After his death in 1933, Balto’s body was preserved and displayed at Cleveland's Natural History Museum. In 1995, a popular animated movie about Balto was released, adding to his fame.
Many of today's Siberian Huskies have pedigrees tracing back to Seppala's great racing dogs, including Siberians used primarily for showing and Siberians used primarily for working.