The story of the sled dog, Togo, who led the 1925 serum run, but was considered by most to be too small and weak to lead such an intense race.

 Director: Ericson Core

Writer: Tom Flynn (screenplay)

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl

Details Official Sites: Disney+ Country: USA Language: English

Release Date: 20 December 2019 (USA)- Also Known As: Togo-

Company Credits Production Co: The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Pictures-

Technical Specs Runtime: 113 min Color: Color Aspect Ratio: 2.00 : 1

The True Story Behind Disney's 'Togo'

The saga began when a doctor diagnosed the first case of diphtheria, a deadly illness, in a young boy in Nome in January 1925. The city, located approximately 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, had a population of just under 1,000. Diphtheria was called the “strangling angel of children,” because it releases a toxin that shuts down its victim’s windpipe. Young children were especially vulnerable to it.

In the winter of 1925, Nome had a supply of antitoxin, the serum then used to treat diphtheria, but it had all expired. (A vaccine was later developed that has virtually eliminated the disease.) The town’s single doctor and four nurses watched helplessly as a three-year-old boy died, soon followed by a seven-year-old girl. They worried that the fatality rate for those infected would be 100 percent. Several years earlier, a flu epidemic had killed off half of Nome’s indigenous population.

Nome’s medical team put out a call for help—and found that the nearest supply of serum was in a storehouse outside Anchorage. Trains could bring it to within around 700 miles of Nome, and the team hoped bush planes could take it from there. But that week, record-setting cold weather and gale-force winds swept across Alaska, grounding the only rickety planes in the area.

The people of Nome realized that sled dogs would have to carry the 20-pound package of medicine to their city through the storm. It was the only way.


Enter our story’s hero: Togo, who was already a champion racer by 1925 but whose running days were largely behind him. He’d been born a smaller-than-average puppy in 1913 but quickly distinguished himself as a sled dog, running 75 miles his first time in a harness. According to Gay and Laney Salisbury’s The Cruelest Mile, a 2003 history of the serum run, Togo was a living legend among Alaskan dogsledders, “a natural-born lead dog.” Although Togo was 12 years old in January 1925, he was still fast and strong. He was tapped to anchor the serum relay team.

“He was the best dog [owner Leonhard Seppala] had at navigating sea ice, and would often run well ahead of the team on a long lead in order to pick out the safest and easiest route across Norton Sound or other parts of the Bering Sea,” the Salisburys write. That talent served Togo well on the serum run: at one point, the intrepid pup led the team across 40 miles of Bering Sea ice in the face of an oncoming storm.

No single dog deserves all the credit for saving Nome. To deliver the antitoxin, more than 20 mushers and 100 dogs carried the medicine from a train line near Fairbanks (where temperatures hovered around minus 50 degrees), along the Yukon River, over a frozen bay, and finally along the Bering Sea coast. Still, Togo was arguably the team’s most impressive canine in sheer distance—he ran more than 350 miles total, more than any dog in the pack—as well as heroics.

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