Sled Dog Day
It is believed dogs started pulling sleds for people about 3,000 years ago, when hunting and fishing communities were forced to move further up north to Siberia.
The Alaskan gold rush sparked the American population’s interest in using sled dogs as a form of transportation, as most gold camps were only accessible by dogsled in the winter months. Until planes took over in the 1930s, dogsleds were the only relatively dependable way of transporting anything in the harsh Alaska and Yukon weather conditions.
One of sled dogs’ most impressive achievements was the 1925 serum run from Nome to Nenana. A diphtheria outbreak was threatening the lives of people in Nome and the serum was 700 miles away in the town of Nenana. Twenty dogsled teams worked together to relay the serum to Nome in only six days, saving the lives of hundreds of people.
After this, the Iditarod Trail was established on the path between Nome and Nenana. It was known as the Iditarod Trail because Iditarod was the largest town on the trail. The trail fell into disuse by the 1940’s. In 1967, Dorothy Page, who was conducting Alaska’s centennial celebration, ordered 9 miles of the trail to be cleared for a dog sled race. The US Army performed a survey of the trail in 1972, and the Iditarod was established by Joe Redington, Sr. in 1973. The race took three weeks to complete and was won by Dick Wilmarth.
The modern Iditarod is a 1,100 mile endurance sled dog race, usually lasting ten to eleven days, weather permitting. It begins in Anchorage, Alaska on the morning of the first Saturday in March. The race ends when the last musher either drops out of the race or crosses the finish line in Nome. The Iditarod has been billed as the “The Last Great Race on Earth”.
Sled dogs today are still used by some rural communities, especially in areas of Alaska and Canada and throughout Greenland. They are also used for recreational purposes, and are raced in events such as the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Many sled dog breeds are also kept as pets or raised as show dogs.
Several dog breeds are used for sled dogs including the Siberian Husky, Samoyed, and the Chinook. Other breeds such as Poodles and Labrador Retrievers have also been used as sled dogs.