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National Sled Dog Day: Reason for the Iditarod, and Dog Balto, Hailed [WATCH]

Feb 02, 2016 02:49 PM EST

Today is National Sled Dog Day. For that reason, New York's Central Park is noting their 1925 bronze statue of Balto, an Alaskan malamute that was once famous and hailed as a hero--not just a children's animated-movie reference. Balto led the last of more than 20 sled-dog teams through cold and snow to bring an anti-toxin for diphtheria to Nome, Alaska, whose populace was hard-hit by that serious bacterial infection, according to the Central Park Conservancy website. The famous Iditarod sled race actually started as a result of the trip that Balto and other dogs took, to bring help to Nome's children. The bronze statue at Central Park was installed ten months after the Nome arrival. 

In diphtheria, mucous membranes become inflamed and a false membrane forms in the throat to clog breathing and swallowing. It can also lead to heart and nerve damage. The bacterial toxin is highly contagious, but vaccines exist for diphtheria in most industrial countries today.

Back in 1925, a few years after World War I, the medicine-delivery team began by train from Anchorage, then sled teams carried the medicine the rest of the way-making a 674-mile trip from Nenana to Nome in around 20 hours. Balto led a team for the last leg of the relay, about 53 miles.

On February 2, 1925, Balto and his team arrived, having battled tundra conditions to bring help to the state's children. The dog was regarded as a hero, and the bronze statue by Frederick G. R. Roth was dedicated in Central Park on December 17 of that year.

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