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TOGO: The Incredible True Story | Naman Panpalia

This story is a true story.

The Norwegian born Seppala, a musher (driver of a dog sledge), arrived in Nome, Alaska in 1900. Under the employ of the Pioneer Mining Company, Seppala became one of the best mushers in Alaska. Togo was born in 1913. As a puppy, he had many health issues and Seppala saw no use of him. But Togo was magnetically drawn towards Seppala – He defied Seppala's attempts to lock him up or give him away. He dug his way out of kennels, climbed atop shelves to get out of a toolshed, misbehaved his way out of an adoption and jumped out through a glass window to avoid another adoption. As he grew up, he became captivated by the working sledge dogs in Seppala’s team. He usually ran alongside teams training with Seppala, much to Seppala’s anguish. Frustrated, Seppala put a harness on the 8-month-old. Togo astonished Seppala by running seventy-five miles that day and became his most prized dog. They both became Alaska’s most famous musher and dog and gradually, the bond between man and dog became inseparable.


In the winter of 1925, a deadly outbreak of diphtheria struck the city of Nome, Alaska. The nearest medical stores were hundreds of miles away, across the state’s snowy interior. Medicines could not be airlifted since the weather was bad, and medicines couldn’t be sent by train since it would take a long time. As a last resort, the city of Nome turned towards Seppala, and Nome’s fate lay in Seppala’s hands. At that time, Seppala was forty-seven and Togo was twelve, both past their primes.


With Togo as his lead dog, Seppala set out for Nenana. The trail between Nome and Nenana was one of Alaska’s most dangerous. Most of it was running around the windswept, blizzard-prone coast of the frozen Norton Sound (lake). The most dangerous part of the journey was the forty-two-mile shortcut across the frozen Norton Sound. They could get caught in a storm, a dog could get injured or worst of all, they could sink below the thin layer of ice that had formed on the Norton Sound. On their way back with the serum, they were on the Norton Sound when they were trapped on an ice floe. The ice floe was just two-three inches away from land, but Seppala couldn’t take any risk, especially with the serum. Seppala trusted his lead dog, and he connected one end of a tow rope to Togo while he connected the other end to the ice floe. Togo tried to pull, but the rope snapped. Seppala’s confidence felt low, but he did not lose hope. Then, Togo astounded him as Togo wrapped the broken end of the rope around his body and tried even harder than before. The ice floe trundled. Togo tried again with all his might, Seppala egging him on. Gradually, Togo pulled the whole ice floe back to the land. After travelling a major distance, they passed the serum to another team since the Seppala along with his dogs couldn’t travel so much distance.


They passed the serum to Gunnar Kaasen, the last team in the serum run. Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto carried the serum for only 31 miles till Nome. Because it is Balto who delivered the serum to Nome, it is he who got the lion’s share of the glory. Seppala and Togo travelled for two-hundred-sixty-four miles, almost nine times the distance covered by Balto. Yet, Seppala and Togo received no special mention and Balto was regarded as the Saviour of Nome. Balto also got a statue to his name in New York. Togo slowly became an unsung hero who like many others wasn’t given his well-deserved credit and recognition.


Togo was euthanized by Seppala in 1929 due to his joint pain and partial blindness.

This is one of the many true untold stories in the world. Just like Togo, there have been thousands of heroes who have played a big part in a cause. But like him, their names too are lost in the pages of history.

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