By Ken Harris © 2007
A dog named Balto lived next door to us in Glen Avon, Riverside County, California. It was around 1939 and I was five or six years old.
In January, 1925 a diphtheria epidemic threatened the children of Nome, Alaska. The nearest serum sat in Anchorage, 1000 miles away. The only airplane that could deliver the serum had been dismantled for winter. More than 20 mushers and their dog teams carried the serum from Anchorage to Nome. Temperatures dropped to 40 below, strong winds blow the sled teams over, but in spite of it all, the serum made it in six days. A musher named Gunnar Kaasen drove his team into Nome, and the team was headed by – you guessed it – a huskey named Balto.
Balto became a celebrity and for a couple of years afterwards Balto traveled the country as part of a show. And, as befits a celebrity, when he died, they stuffed him. The curious traveler may see his preserved body at the Cleveland Natural History Museum.
That diphtheria serum run also led more or less directly to the creation of the Iditarod sled dog race. Some people would like to have Balto’s remains sent to Alaska where he could be displayed at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum, but the people who manage the Cleveland Natural History Museum don’t want to give up their prize. This leads us to the sight of grown people, college people, fighting over a dead dog. (This information comes from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/sleddogs/balto.html.)
The point of this story is that back in the late Thirties there were many dogs named Balto, and I had one living next door to me. He was a husky type dog, and we spent some quality time together since there was no dog at the Harris house that summer.
Summer was coming on, and it got hot in Riverside County back then. It still does. Balto’s owners took him into town and had him clipped. All that long, Husky-type hair came off except for a ruff around his neck and a pompom on the tip of his tail. The groomer called it a “lion clip” and Balto’s owners thought he looked handsome and elegant. Balto thought he looked stupid and spent the rest of the week hiding behind the oleanders.
I agreed with Balto and spent some quality oleander time with him. At the same time, without the clip he would have been miserable in the summer heat. All of which makes me wonder. Why do people who live in the desert keep sled dogs? Do they keep Chihuahuas in Alaska? Finally, can anyone think of a better way to dispose of a dead dog?