I went on a trip a couple of years ago. I drove to northern Minnesota to meet Doug Willett and Togo. Doug and I had worked on his book for a year, and I wanted to meet him. I fell in love with Togo from the first look. He was Doug’s last Seppala and probably the best dog genetically he had produced in all his years and over 500 dogs.
Togo never got to be a sled dog during his prime as Doug had retired. He had all the tools but instead became Doug’s closest friend. Togo was an escape artist that has no match that I know of. Togo was true to his name as a free spirit. One that just could not be contained by a fence or walls.
Things change in our lives, and I was fortunate enough to have Doug offer to sell him to me much later. He wanted him to be bred because of his genes. I drove to Minnesota and picked him up. I then drove him to Maine to join a new pack and a new life. I’ve felt the pressure of having Doug’s last dog. To keep him safe and to let him run. And to hopefully have him reproduce and carry on what Doug started.
True to his nature, Togo could not be contained for the first year. An 8-foot fence was child’s play to the master of escape. During that 2000 mile drive, I fell in love with him and wanted to keep him in Virginia. But that would have been a discredit to him. He stayed in Maine, and we did, and still are trying to breed him. He may have passed his prime for producing progeny. He can breed but has so far produced no puppies. His best days for that are probably past. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying, on the off chance a miracle may happen.
He gets to breed with every female that comes in heat. I suppose that is not such a bad thing in retirement. He also gets to run where there is snow and lots of his kind to live with. Going on 12, he’s slowed down the past year. He hasn’t jumped the fence in a year but still can run like a Seppala does. He may have passed his prime, but he hasn’t been forgotten.
Last year he ran several 30, and 40 mile runs during Hanna’s victory in the “Iron Paws.” He was on several of Hannah’s grocery runs during the Pandemic. It may not have been the serum run of 1925, but he played a part as a team member. Hannah and that team received a letter of appreciation from the Governor of Maine. The letter was for their work to deliver groceries to the elderly and those at risk from the virus by sled dogs.
Today he ran lead in shorter distances, but the important thing is he gets to be a “Sled Dog.” He can still do it but at his age, but he is certainly past his prime. He is also part of this year’s “Iron Paws” challenge. I’d say he has a pretty good retirement.
I’d bring him here to live with me, but then he’d miss out on what he needs. Thanks to Hannah for taking care of him in his golden years. He is a great dog in personality and everything else you measure a dog by. And thanks to Doug for trusting me with his care. I think he is enjoying his golden years! He’s pulling sleds as Seppalas have done since Leonard invented them. He loves his life, he has 17 dogs and two humans as companions.
I don’t think it gets much better than that for any dog. This is an example of a life well-lived. First he gave up his desire to race to be with DW in his golden years. Now he is doing what he can to enjoy his own golden years.
There is now a statue in Central Park, New York to fix the wrongs done to Togo. Balto claimed the credit but it was Togo who actually did the most.
Togo’s plaque reads: “In 1925 Togo led a dog sled team in blizzard conditions to Nome, Alaska, to deliver a life-saving antitoxin during a diphtheria epidemic. He traveled nearly 300 miles, farther than any other dog in the relay. His courage saved many lives.”
He was 12 years old, and would never race again. His efforts took the last of what he had. He did live on to produce pups that some of us still have of that unbroken line. He and Leonard were examples of what heroes are.
DEDICATED TO THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF / THE SLED DOGS / THAT RELAYED ANTI TOXIN SIX HUNDRED MILES OVER ROUGH ICE / ACROSS TREACHEROUS WATERS THROUGH ARCTIC BLIZZARDS FROM / NENNANA TO THE RELIEF OF STRICKEN NOME IN THE / WINTER OF 1925