The Heroic Dog Who Inspired A Hit Animated Movie Has An Incredible True Story

by Rebecca Endicott
Becca is a writer and aspirational dog owner living in NYC.

People like to say that dogs are “man’s best friend,” but there are a few episodes in history that proves that dogs are often so much more than just companions.

After all, there are stories almost every week about brave and loyal dogs who risk it all to save people from certain death, like this sweet stray who rescued a little girl in Poland after she disappeared in the middle of winter. And he’s far from alone! Heroic dogs are beloved cultural icons, as we know from the popularity of television shows and movies about courageous pooches.

But what you may not realize is that Balto, one of the most popular movies about a heroic canine, is actually based on an incredible true story.

While the animated film from the ’90s takes quite a few liberties with the real-life story, the original Balto was a sled dog in Alaska who helped save hundreds of lives back in 1925.

What do you think about this dog’s heroic rescue? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

It all starts in the town of Nome, AK.

In 1925, children all over town suddenly began to sicken with diphtheria, a highly contagious disease that is often fatal without treatment.

The town’s only doctor was completely out of viable serum, and the community was facing a massive epidemic.

It was wintertime, and the town, with no roads in or out, was almost entirely cut-off from outside contact due to frozen waterways.

Desperate, the doctor sent out a last ditch request for the serum to be delivered by sled dog over the immensely dangerous Iditarod Trail from Nenana to Nome, a route of almost 700 miles.

With just six days to accomplish a journey that normally took 30, a relay of dog sled teams were dispatched immediately to begin transporting the life-saving serum to Nome, where the stakes were desperately high.

The priceless case of serum passed from sled to sled, mile by mile.

For the most dangerous leg of the journey, famed musher Leonhard Seppala and his incredible team of dogs, led by the intrepid Togo, make the second-to-last run of the journey, passing through incredible storms and treacherous ice floes.

Finally, Seppala handed off the serum to his employee, Gunnar Kaasen, for the last leg of the journey.

Kaasen’s team, led by the relatively untried sled dog Balto, had far less experience than Seppala with the dangerous conditions, but proved themselves on the road.

Incredibly, they managed to complete their leg of the journey and another additional leg into the town of Nome, despite traveling in either complete darkness or white-out conditions through a raging blizzard.

At one point, Balto saved the whole team from plunging into a river at the last second, somehow sensing the edge even in total darkness.

Kaasen and Balto delivered the serum in time, halting an epidemic in its track and becoming heroes in the process.

Both the man and the dog were hailed by millions, including President Calvin Coolidge. Balto even received his very own statue in Central Park.

He lived eight more years after the run, and eventually died of old age in 1933, having lived a long life as a true hero!

If you’re inspired by the story of intrepid Balto and the incredible Iditarod mission, please SHARE this story on Facebook!