Unsung Hero

Most people know the epic story of Balto, the hero husky, thanks in part to the 1995 animated film of the same name, but fewer people know the story of the unsung hero in this true tale.That will change after this weekend (12/20) when “Togo” begins  streaming on the new Disney+ service. 

“Togo” tells an often forgotten part of the race to save Nome, Alaska from a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. It stars Willem Dafoe as the sled dog trainer who must transport a serum through a dangerous storm with his aging Siberian husky to save the town. Dog trainers on the set were Thomas Gunderson, who has sled dog movie experience from working on Snow Dogs and Eight Below and whose recent credits include Megan Leavey, and Los Angeles dog trainer, Mathilde deCagney, who has a string of credits going back thirty years, including Back to the Future, My Dog Skip, and Marley & Me

Photo by Chris Large
Copyright 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

If you’re a regular reader, you know I have a serious interest in sled dogs, so, until “Togo” comes out, here’s a little history on this incredible dog. Warning, there are a few spoilers and a couple potential triggers ahead.

Togo belonged to Leonhard Seppala, a sled dog trainer and breeder in Alaska back in its territorial days. Togo was a sickly pup and was hand raised in his early months by Seppala’s wife. Seppala thought he was too small and  rowdy to be considered for a sled dog, and so was given away. After just a few weeks, he was returned for causing trouble and Seppala soon learned how to channel that energy and drive into making Togo a great lead dog and Seppala’s favorite.

Togo circa 1925
Photo from Wikipedia

The “Great Race of Mercy, ” as it was known, took place late in Togo’s life and should have made him the darling of the press, but rumor has it, always the troublemaker, Togo took off with another dog to chase reindeer and Balto, considered the backup dog to most mushers, became the media sensation. There is even a statue dedicated to Balto in Central Park

Togo lived out his life with Seppala and died on December 5, 1929, at the age of 16. Seppala had him mounted and his stuffed skin is still on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wassila, Alaska. His skeleton is at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.

“Togo” comes out December 20th, 2019. It was produced by Walt Disney Studios, was directed by Eric Core, and written by Tom Flynn.

Also on December 20th, Disney+ is releasing its Pick of the Litter. This six-part series follows a group of pups as they begin their journey to become service dogs through Guide Dogs for the Blind.

After you watch, come back and let me know what you thought. Until then, remember, get out there and do something with your dog.


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