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Famous Huskies

Balto

Balto, the Wonder Dog

Died: 1933 | Cleveland,Ohio

Balto, the Wonder Dog was once a favorite punch line of Johnny Carson monologues. Honoured as a bronze statue atop a rock in Central Park, Balto is now a favourite stop for foreign-speaking families with kids, who straddle the poor pooch's back nonstop. A plaque on the rock is dedicated to the indomitable spirit of Sled Dogs.

In 1925, the town of Nome was caught in a diphtheria epidemic. Dr. Curtis Welch, the only physician in town, put out an urgent radio appeal for life-saving anti-toxin serum. Already several children had died and others were ill with the highly contagious disease. The hospital at Anchorage had a plentiful supply of fresh serum, but how to get it to Nome in the dead of winter?

State officials decided that the one sure way to get the serum through was by a dog sled relay.

The honor of delivering the serum to Dr. Welch fell to an Alaskan dog sled master, Gunnar Kaasen, who had a team of Siberian huskies with a magnificent lead dog, named Balto. After the hand-off from the first dogsled team, Gunnar traversed the hellacious final 53 miles.

Gunnar was blinded by snow and had to place all trust in Balto. They made it; the serum arrived in time to halt the epidemic. It was rumored Balto died upon completing of his life-saving mission but not true!

The heroic dogs toured the US, but their fame soon faded, and the team was sold to a vaudeville promoter. In 1927, a Cleveland businessman visiting Los Angeles discovered the dogs on display, ill kept and in poor health. Cleveland schoolchildren donated pennies and residents chipped in to to raise $2,000 to buy Balto and the team. The money was raised and the team was brought to Cleveland.

After his death in 1933, Balto was stuffed, mounted and put on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where he stands today. The museum displays a film shot in 1925 of Balto and the original team.