In my last column, I mentioned that I preferred statues of dogs, rather than dogs who were stuffed. There are many statues commemorating dogs, and on a recent trip to Alaska, my sister-in-law found two of them.
One was Granite, Susan Butcher's lead dog. Susan Butcher was the second woman to ever win the Iditarod (the first was Libby Riddles), became the second four-time winner, and was the first to win four out of five sequential years. I was a huge long-distance fan of Butcher, and I remember a bumper sticker from the years she was winning. "Alaska - where men are men and women win the Iditarod." Susan Butcher Day is the first Saturday in March, the traditional start of the Iditarod.
The Iditarod is a 1,000-mile plus sled-dog race that commemorates the 1925 effort to carry diphtheria serum to Nome. Relays of mushers and their dogs carried the serum that would save the city from the disease.
Granite was the lead dog for Susan Butcher, the second woman ever to win the Iditarod sled-dog race.
As an aside that fits into both the "stuffed dog" and "statue" categories two dogs from that historic race were commemorated. One was Balto, whose statue is in Central Park. He was the lead dog of Gunnar Kaasen, the man who made the delivery of the serum. I wouldn't take anything away from the efforts of any dog, but the statue should have gone to Togo, a rather small Siberian husky who, at the age of 12, led the team of Leonhard Seppala. The team covered the most hazardous stretch and carried the serum 91 miles, the farthest of any team. Seppala's sled was, for many years, on display at the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vt., as was Togo, who was stuffed. Togo remained in Vermont for many years until Alaskan schoolchildren raised money to have his remains returned to Alaska. He is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters museum in Wasilla, Alaska. Wikipedia says that his skeleton is in the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.
I wish he had a bronze statue in Central Park, and that more people knew about him, but I'm glad his memory is preserved somewhere, and Alaska is a fitting place.
To get back to Susan Butcher, Butcher loved her dogs and appreciated their efforts, and she especially appreciated her lead dog, Granite. She and her husband, David Monson, wrote a children's book about Granite, chronicling his life, from his start as a sickly puppy to the triumph of winning the Iditarod. The dog almost didn't make it, because during one race, a moose charged the team, severely injuring several dogs. Granite recovered, but then, on a training run, collapsed with a high fever. Butcher rushed him to a veterinarian, and, against all odds, Granite recovered. He was apparently as tough as his name. Granite and his team won the Iditarod three times in a row and lived to be 17 years old. His statue is in front of the Chena Village post office in Alaska. To order the book, "Granite," and to learn more about Susan Butcher, check out the website, susanbutcher.com.
Another dog with a commemorative statue is Juneau Alaska's Patsy Ann. Patsy Ann was a bull terrier who greeted the ships that docked at Juneau's harbor. She never missed a ship, and was a huge favorite with tourists, as well as sailors and dockworkers. I knew the story, but it wasn't until checking out the website, patsyann.com/story/ that I learned that Patsy Ann was deaf. The site speculates that she could still "hear" the ships' horns. Whatever guided her, she always knew that a ship was coming, and she never failed to greet it. Like so many dogs whose lives are remembered, Patsy Ann had no owner, relying on handouts, and sleeping in the longshoreman's hall.
When she died in 1942, her coffin was lowered into the channel where she had greeted so many ships. Fifty years later, her statue was commissioned. At the time the bronze statue was cast, New Mexican artist Anna Burke Harris mixed clippings of dog hair from all over the world, "symbolically uniting the spirit of dogs everywhere." I like that.
My dogs may not have the stamina and courage of Granite, or the same sense of time that drove Patsy Ann to greet every Juneau ship, but they greet me every time I sail in the door, and it's a warm welcome that never fails to brighten my mood.