Siberian Huskies and the Growth of Dog SleddingUnlike the breed's fate in Russia, the Siberian husky was taking hold in Alaska. Dog sledding had become not only a means of transportation, but also a popular sport for the adventurers who had journeyed north in search of gold. Local races quickly evolved into large events with numerous entries. A lawyer named Albert Fink undertook the task of regulating the dogsled events and helped to formalize the sport.
The dogs used in the early races were primarily Alaskan sled dogs, which were originally bred to haul freight. They were larger and stronger than Siberian Huskies, and accordingly not as quick. They were, however, well adapted to the terrain and had great competitive spirit. In 1908 William Goosak, a Russian fur trader, entered a team of Chukchi dogs in the All-Alaska sled race from Nome. He hired a local driver familiar with the 408-mile course to lead the team, but the driver was not familiar with the Chukchi dog style of dog sledding. The team finished third against the experienced dogs and drivers, but the dogs' speed enthusiasm attracted a lot of attention to the breed. Many Chukchi dogs subsequently were imported from Siberian.
The first sled driver to gain notoriety on the sled dog circuit using Siberian Huskies was a Norwegian named Leonhard Seppala, who had emigrated to Alaska early in the twentieth century. He inherited a well-trained team of huskies that had originally been scheduled to drive explorer Roald Amundsen to the North Pole. When the expedition was canceled due to the outbreak of World War I, the dogs were placed with Seppala. Over the next few years his Siberian Husky teams beat all comers in races throughout the Northwest. His huskies were all but unbeatable in the 25-mile Borden Cup Race that took place each year in Nome.
In January 1925, Seppala and his huskies earned a place in history. That winter, and epidemic of diphtheria broke out in Nome and local doctors did not have adequate supplies of the required diphtheria serum. At the time, Nome was connected to the lower territories only by telephone; the nearest railroad station was more then 650 miles south near Anchorage. Seppala was chosen to go and collect the serum by dogsled, in a race against time. Seppala and his team headed south along the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and the Bering Sea...some of the most treacherous sections of Alaska's wilderness. A relay team comprised of 15 sleds and dogs was sent north with the serum to meet Seppala, as the world waited. On the day Seppala met up with the relay team (after mushing nearly 170 miles) he had already traveled more than 40 miles in blizzard conditions; he retrieved the serum and immediately headed back to Nome, posting another 40 miles before resting briefly. His team of 20 dogs amassed nearly 350 miles in this journey. The teams from the south ran relays of approximately 50 miles each and contributed greatly to the success of this mission.
News reports of the feats of Seppala's dogs brought great acclaim to the breed. It created a demand for Siberian Huskies, especially by sledding enthusiasts in New England. Because the breeders in Alaska were unable to fill the request, they received, many interested fanciers imported dogs directly from Siberia. These proved to be the last substantial imports before the breed disappeared in its homeland.
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