For VÍCTOR M. FALCÓN GARCÍA
It is common to qualify the dog as man’s best friend. It is an epithet with which the canine pet has always – even since our ancestors – been identified everywhere. That phrase has a historical reason, because in addition to the qualities that define it as a noble and faithful animal, the canid has demonstrated in multiple feats, over the centuries, its respect and loyalty to humans.
Here are some moments when the man needed a hand, and got a leg… He couldn’t have done better!
It seems like a Jack London fictional plot: in the middle of winter 1925, a bacterial disease infects the children of Nome, a gold rush town in northwestern Alaska, which has been isolated between a frozen sea and a wilderness under the snow. The only hope of 1,000 residents is an imprecise plan to bring the medicine from a railway stop in Nenana, on the other side of the mountains, 2,100 kilometers from Nome. For that, it is inevitable to avoid a treacherous route and one of the worst winter storms ever experienced. And all, against the clock, on dog sleds.
But that story is not fiction. The serum race – that’s what they called it – had such an impact in the United States that it branched out into books, films, and statues. That event put the strength, courage and determination of a man, the Norwegian Leonhard Seppala, and especially his lead dog to the test.
The Siberian husky Togo – named after the Japanese admiral Heihachiro Togo – was born in 1913. He had a mottled color that gave his hair a grimy appearance, and was initially raised by Constance, Seppala’s wife. His future in dog racing did not look very promising, but his willing temperament, knack for finding the shortest distance between two points, loyalty to the master, and innate leadership led to his musher (sled guide) ending up at the head of the pack. team. The two became inseparable and saved each other on multiple expeditions.
By the time the diphtheria outbreak flared, Seppala was already a famous runner across Alaska (“King of the Trail,” they called him), as was his cunning Togo, revered as a guide dog. That is why they were summoned to assume the greatest weight in the well-known “great race of mercy”, designed by sections.
Twenty mushers passed the shipment of 300,000 antitoxin units. But Seppala and his dogs, led by the 12-year-old Siberian husky, had to cover the longest and most dangerous stretch. While it was a shortcut to buy time, it was full of rough snowy hills where dogs could barely find footholds and frozen lakes where treacherous ice crunched under fingernails.
Quite exhausted, Seppala and company finally delivered the medicines to musher Gunnar Kaasen and his guide dog Balto. It was this team that entered Nome with the desired cargo, without breaking a single vial. The various sleds crossed 1,085 kilometers in five and a half days, which was considered a world record due to the inclement conditions.
Due to the excitement of the peak moment, the press accentuated Balto as the face of the feat. The tribute reached so much that a statue was erected in Central Park in New York. To spend his last days he was taken to the Cleveland Zoo, where he died in 1933, aged 14.
But while the world cheered the name of Balto, the people of Alaska cheered that of Togo, the great hero of the serum race. He retired in Poland Spring, Maine, where he was euthanized in December 1929. He was 16 years old. His remains are now in the Museum of Natural History at Yale University and his children, and the children of his children, were named as a new breed: the Seppala husky, also in honor of the musher. They are regarded as the best dogs for sledding. In 2011, Times awarded Togo the title of “bravest animal in history”.
Faithful to death
Barry is known as the most famous Saint Bernard dog in history (although he was certainly smaller than the current breed). It is said that between 1800 and 1812 he lived in the Hospicio del Gran San Bernardo, on the border between Switzerland and Italy. There he helped the monks to help injured pilgrims, contributing his remarkable development and sense of orientation in the snow. He is credited with saving dozens of lives.
Its history and name have been used in literary works; while his embalmed body is exhibited in the Museum of Natural History in Bern, and in the dog cemetery, near Paris, a monument immortalizes his image as a rescuer.
Hachiko, was a Japanese dog of the Akita breed, who every morning accompanied his master, Professor Eisaburo Ueno, to the Shibuya train station, where he watched him buy the ticket and go by train to work. The dog used to sit in the square and wait for its owner to return.
In May 1925, while teaching at the University of Tokyo, Professor Ueno suffered a brain hemorrhage and died. That, like every afternoon, Hachiko anxiously awaited the return of his master. But this one never came back. The animal lived in front of the station for the next nine years.
Such routine, which outlined the lives of both, was not unnoticed by the regulars to the place. So the people cared for him and fed him and even raised a bronze statue for him. Hachiko himself was present. In March 1935 he was found dead at the foot of his own statue, in front of the station, where he waited for his friend for almost a decade. The cinema has not been able to avoid the sad and beautiful story of this dog, well it is worth saying: faithful until death.
Nevado was Simón Bolívar’s dog. Also known as Simoncito, he was of the Mucuchíes race, black in color, but with white ears, back and tail; from that particularity its name was derived. It was given to the Liberator by a peasant from the town of Mucuchíes, Mérida, after the battle of Niquitao, during the Admirable Campaign, in 1813.
The story goes that Bolívar communicated with him through whistles taught by the Tinjacá Indian (whom everyone called “aide-de-camp of the dog”). Nevado, who was traveling in a special basket, accompanied Bolívar for eight years on voyages, battles, and even on his triumphal entry into Caracas … Finally, the dog and his caretaker, the Indian Tinjacá, were shot to death by the Spaniards in the Battle of Carabobo, June 24, 1821. It is said that the Liberator could not hide his affliction.
In Cuba there are similar legends around a man’s best friend, although in this case it would be a woman’s. American Jeannette Ford Ryder is not only famous for being a great benefactor in Havana, but for her dog Rinti. When the lady died, at age 65, her faithful pet lay beside the grave in the Colón cemetery, and no matter how hard the employees tried to scare him away, he always came back. Day after day, and hardly eating, Rinti was dying; some affirm sadness. In the end, the Bando de Piedad hired the sculptor Fernando Boada to build the recumbent sculpture that can be seen there today, along with the unique epitaph: Faithful until after death. Rinti.
More than 60 years ago, a living being left planet Earth for the first time for space: the dog Laika. Since I was a child, that dog caught my attention. It was launched on the Soviet satellite Sputnik 2, on November 3, 1957.
Laika, originally called Kudryavka (in Russian: “curly-haired little girl”), was selected for her alert and docile character among a bunch of dogs collected from the streets of Moscow; as it was considered that the stray had better adaptability than the pedigree. She was trained almost like an astronaut: she was fed gelatin-based meals, placed in smaller and smaller cages to accustom her to the 80-centimeter-long pressurized capsule, and accustomed to the noises of a spacecraft.
Unfortunately, then the space technology was just starting and from the start the mission of the little “can-tronaut” was marked by sacrifice. Six hours after takeoff, the sensors registered a cardiac arrest. Laika died due to the cabin overheating and stress. Sputnik 2 made 2 370 laps in orbit and disintegrated over the Antilles when it entered the atmosphere on April 14, 1958, with the body of its passenger.
Laika’s sacrifice provided scientists with the first data on how living organisms react to the sidereal environment and paved the way for human travel. In his honor, on April 11, 2008, the Russian authorities unveiled a monument near the military research center in Moscow, where it was prepared. The bronze figure, two meters high, represents a segment of a rocket that transforms into a hand, on which Laika sprouts. Deserved memory that it could be extended to countless other dogs.