If you are contemplating bringing a Siberian Husky into your home, it will serve you well to learn how this breed was developed. How can you understand your dog if you don’t know how he became what he is? Behind those blue eyes are thousands of years of history. Countless generations of dogs have lived and died; their bones are scattered amid some of the most inhospitable lands man and dog have ever lived upon. The Husky has changed over the years, but even today behind those blue eyes certain things about a Husky remain the same.
The Siberian Husky is a pure and ancient dog breed. The development of this breed by the Chukchi (Chuck Chee) people dates back at least 4,000 years, perhaps even longer. Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. When the Great Pyramids of Egypt were being completed, Huskies were pulling sleds through the frozen wastelands of North Eastern Asia.
The Chukchi people are given credit for the development and breeding of Siberian Huskies. This ancient people were reindeer herders and hunters. Huskies were used to pull heavy loads long distances through an extremely cold and harsh environment. The tribes moved everything they owned as they followed the food supply. Men, women, children and Huskies learned to survive, a team effort few of us can imagine. Both man and dog needed each other to survive.
It’s no wonder that the Chukchi even to this day treat their dogs with the utmost respect. Without them they would have perished. The Chukchi still believe one simple rule about the dogs they live with.
“The way you treat your dog in this life determines your place in heaven.”
Huskies were used to pull the sleds, and the people walked. The dogs were so respected that only the very young, old or sick ones could ride on a sled. The Chukchis had a shamanistic religion and believed the gates to heaven were guarded by a pair of dogs. They believed anyone who mistreated a dog would not be allowed into heaven.
The Chukchis eventually learned how to domesticate reindeer. The huskies were now trained how to herd, instead of kill them. In time the reindeer were used to haul the heavy loads. Huskies were then bred for agility, endurance, and power. Even to this day no other breed in the world can haul a light load as fast and as far the Siberian Husky. And this amazing breed can do it on a small amount of food and rest.
In 1742 the Russians declared all-out war against the Chukchi people. They had tried to make them surrender their land for over 40 years. The people were beaten by the Russians in every battle but they refused to give up.
In my own personal belief, the Husky was impacted by their owners. The Siberian Husky retains this same steadfast determination that allows them to continue when other breeds give up. This can be a great trait in a dog pulling a sled, but can be problematic if the dog is left bored and untrained.
But let’s get back to history as there is more to this story of how the Husky came to America.
Sadly, only a few Siberian Huskies remain in their native land today. Their downfall began in the 1930’s. The Stalinist Communists began enacting a plan to destroy every trace of the Non-Soviet culture. This included the natives, even their dogs.
The Communist believed the dogs had out lived their usefulness and could be replaced with modern vehicles. They soon learned these vehicles only got stuck in the snow and broke down while the dogs went merrily upon their way.
Trying to save face, the Soviet Congress dictated that dogs did have some value and created four State approved classifications: Sled dogs, Herders, Big and Small Game Hunters. It was decided Huskies were too small to pull anything and were not included. Soviet Congress ignored the fact Huskies had been pulling sleds all over Siberia for thousands of years.
The Soviets’ next action was to begin a campaign of terror to wipe out the Chukchis and their beloved dogs. They attempted to systematically kill men, women, and dogs. The people still survive to this day, and the Husky can be found all around the world.
Two things saved the Siberian Husky: one was the great Alaskan Gold Rush; the other was a Norwegian man named Leonhard Seppala. Some people believe it was coincidence, others believe it was divine intervention. I happen to believe the latter. I don’t believe God was going to let one of his finest creations perish from the earth.
The Klondike Gold Rush from 1896-1899 brought over 100,000 prospectors to the gold fields via Nome, Alaska. History can’t point to exactly how the Husky first came to Alaska. Some believe they came with some adventurous Chukchi who crossed the Bering Strait. Others believe the demand for dogs in the gold fields sent traders to Siberia to find them.
However, it happened is not as important as the fact Siberian Huskies found a new frozen land where they could live and thrive. Free of persecution they would become a symbol of the great state of Alaska.
Enter Leonhard Seppala who was a Norwegian born in the Arctic Circle. He immigrated to America in 1914 where he worked in the gold fields of Alaska, driving freight dogs, and later participating in sled dog races. His part in Husky history was to bring enough fame to them to ensure they would be forever loved and adored in the United States. Seppala’s claim to fame happened in January 1925 when his home of Nome Alaska was in the middle of a raging diphtheria epidemic.
With two Eskimo children already dead, the city’s supply of serum was exhausted. The nearest supply was over a thousand miles away in Anchorage. The Alaskan railroad could bring it to Nenana, but this was still 658 miles from Nome.
Alaska only had three aircraft at the time and their three pilots were gone, spending the winter in warmer weather. They could not have flown even if they had been there. Eighty mph winds and raging blizzards blotted out the sky. Under the leadership of Seppala, 20 drivers and 100 hundred sled dogs took up the challenge to deliver the serum to Nome. On a small trail that normally took 25 days to cross, these amazing dogs and drivers did it in 5 and a half days, through waist deep snow and temperatures reaching minus -62 degrees Fahrenheit. Seppala alone drove 340 miles of the trip in conditions where he could not even see his own lead dog.
The final leg of the trip was driven by Gunnar Kassan using Seppala’s second string dogs, and led by a dog named Balto. Kassan became lost on the ice of the Topkok River in the dark and accepted that he and his team were about to die.
But Balto saved the day by sniffing out the trail in 50 mph winds, in the middle of a raging blizzard. The team staggered into Nome at 5:30 AM on February 2, 1925. With their feet torn and bloody, the exhausted dogs collapsed on the ground. But the serum had been delivered and the children of Nome were saved.
To this day, the running of the Iditarod celebrates this triumph and a statue of Balto is the only statue of a dog in New York’s Central Park.
After the Serum Run, Seppala and some 40 of his dogs toured the “lower 48” states. The Siberian Husky was no longer unknown. The Siberian Husky would forevermore capture the hearts of men and women everywhere.
Statue of Balto in New York’s Central Park.
The plaque on Balto’s statue reads:
Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.
Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence