National Sled Dog Day
Today is National Sled dog day! Living in Alaska we have learned a lot about the native culture and how life has been lived here before modern technology. Sled dogs were so important before cars, boats and planes. They were important for transportation in arctic areas and were used to haul supplies in areas that were inaccessible by other methods. Sled dogs were used during the Alaskan gold rush. Most gold camps were accessible only by dogsled in the winter.Everything that moved during the frozen season moved by dog team including: prospectors, trappers, doctors, mail, commerce, trade, and supplies. If something needed to move in winter, it was moved by a team of sled dogs.
Sled dogs were used to deliver the mail in Alaska during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sled dog teams averaged eight to ten dogs. These dogs were capable of delivering mail in conditions that would stop boats, trains, and horses. Each team hauled between 500 and 700 lb of mail. The mail was stored in waterproofed bags to protect it from the elements. By 1901, dog trails had been established along the Yukon River. Airplanes began to take over Alaskan mail delivery in the 1920s and 1930s. Mail delivery by dog sled came to an end in 1963 when the last mail carrier to use a dog sled retired.
Today sled dogs are used for recreational purposes, and are raced in events known as dog sled races such as the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. The desire for larger, stronger, load-pulling dogs changed to one for faster dogs with high endurance used in racing, which caused the dogs to become lighter than they were historically.
In 1925, there was a diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska. There was not enough serum in Nome to treat the number of people infected by the disease. There was serum in Nenana, but the town was 700 miles away, and inaccessible except by dog sled. A dog sled relay was set up by the villages between Zenana and Nome, and 20 teams worked together to relay the serum to Nome. The serum reached Nome in six days. The Iditarod Trail was established on the path between these two towns. It was known as the Iditarod Trail because, at the time, Iditarod was the largest town on the trail. We will talk more about the Iditarod in March when we celebrate the start of “The Last Great Race on Earth”.
Last summer I worked for Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod. She is retired now and races for fun. She still has 25ish dogs though. In the summer time she comes to Juneau and does lectures on the Princess cruise line. I sold her books, talked to tourists and petted her sled dogs while she did the lecture. It was a great experience!