It is hard to believe that one year ago our world came to a halt. It was the early days of what we would later learn to be one of the most pivotal years in our history and it is still ongoing. While there were many challenges and changes there was also hope, compassion and resiliency. 

I wanted to share a story that impacted me recently. The feature “Doggone It, If They Could Do It” (Sports Illustrated, January 13, 2021) recalls the true events that happened during the 1925 Nome Serum Run. The article speaks to the epidemic that happened over 100 years ago in Nome, Alaska. The remote community faced a widespread infection when citizens of the town unwittingly transmitted a virus. 

This frontier town housed only one doctor. When he examined a young boy exhibiting labored breathing, he initially diagnosed tonsillitis. However, the boy died the next day. Not long after, patients began lining up, all describing similar symptoms. It was at that time the doctor changed his diagnosis to diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection that had an expected mortality rate of 100%. 
Only by chance the doctor had ordered a diphtheria antitoxin serum the summer before but it has yet to arrive at the town and the nearest supply was in Anchorage, Alaska over 1,500 km away. Reaching the isolated town was challenging in the best of times but during the peak of winter, the prospect of retrieving the serum seemed nearly impossible. With all transport options unavailable, the governor created a plan. A coordinated, around-the-clock relay team of the heartiest dogs and men from Alaska were tasked to brave the cold and transport the antitoxin via sled, across the tundra, frozen lakes, and dense forest. 

What became the Nome Serum Run of 1925 and the Great Race of Mercy was marked as one of the towering rescue efforts in American history. The feat of interspecies heroism lead to many retellings of this great story through literature and movies including the 1995 animated film "Balto" and the 2019 drama "Togo".

The article provides more details about the story of Leonhard Seppala. The man who kindred a relationship and workmanship with Siberian huskies during the All Alaska Sweepstakes Dog Races. Seppala’s experience in the tundra coupled with his expert dog training skills were key contributors to the success of the Nome Serum Run.

In total 150 dogs and 20 mushers were spaced between the Nenana train station and the various towns and villages on the route to Nome. The plan was to hand the serum from person to person as a type of pharmaceutical baton.
Seppala, an ex-prospector (pictured years after the Nome relay), covered the most ground and saved hours—and lives—by taking a risky shortcut. - image rights AP Images
The treacherous journey was met with many challenges and sacrifices. In his leg of the run Seppala and his lead dog, Togo braved the frozen elements. The heroic recount of the journey that Seppala and Togo faced is nothing short of unimaginable. How a man and a dog could work so intrinsically together, helping, supporting, guiding, and protecting each other against all odds.

The final leg of the run was completed by Gunnar Kassen and his lead Balto, a black Siberian husky with white paws. The journey was an elemental battle of man and dog vs. nature. While the world waited with bated breath Kassen and Balto persevered through the freezing temperatures to deliver the serum safely to Nome.

150 dogs, 20 mushers, 1,084 km, 127 hours, and 30 minutes 

What does this story tell us? Then and now animals continue to see us through unprecedented circumstances. They help us overcome obstacles, by supporting us physically and emotionally and seeing us through dark times. We all saw and felt a great loss in 2020. We continue to do our part to protect the vulnerable in our community and follow guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy. This last year many have turned to animals for comfort and companionship. In 2020, we found 748 animals loving and caring homes. There is nothing more special than getting an update email or phone call from an adopter. Hearing the joy and love in their voice reaffirms our mission.

It is not without our generous supporters that we would be able to continue our shelter operation. We see every day the impact that animals have on our lives. We are constantly reminded of their resiliency and adaptability and how much love and support they give to us. It is because of you that we can continue to improve our services and care for vulnerable animals in need.

As we move forward into 2021, I want to remind everyone that we are stronger together and we will persevere. We will continue to lean on each other, support each other and hug our pets.

Steve Ryall
Executive Director
Humane Society London & Middlesex
Humane Society London & Middlesex
624 Clarke Road, London, ON N5V 3K5
519-451-0630 | |