Origin of the Breed:
The Malamute takes its name from the Mahlemuts, native Eskimos, or Inuits, from the Kotzebue Sound on Alaska's northwest coast. The Mahlemuts relied on their dogs as partners for hunting large game and to haul that large game home across the frozen tundra. The dogs had to be strong and possess stamina and endurance.
The Mahlemut's didn't use teams of dogs. The powerful Malamute, with an efficient metabolism, could do the work of an entire team on less fuel than its size suggests.
The harsh Alaskan landscape required the Mahlemut people be tireless workers in order to survive and endure. Their dogs were likewise expected to work hard to earn their keep, and out on the ice their dogs' instincts were trusted over their own.
When food was scarce, Mahlemut and Malamute suffered together, but if dogs failed in their work, they were seldom given a second chance.
However, the Mahlemuts love for their dogs was noted by the first explorers who ventured into Alaska in the 1800s, praising the unique partnership in survival and immortalising them in their journals (Siino 1997).
Place in History:
Mushing with 3 dog team.
Illustrated by Tana HakansonWith the discovery of gold in 1896, Alaska was inundated with adventurers and explorers in search of wealth and glory. They, too, came to rely on the hardy Malamute for freighting and for survival in the harsh country.
But though prospectors required freighting dogs, and often pit their dogs against each other in weight-pulling contests for sport, it was dog racing that attracted most interest.
The Malamute, already renowned for its ability as the penultimate freighting dog, was not so suited to this sport, which required sustaining greater speeds than the heavy freighter was capable. Consequently, the Malamute was cross-bred with lighter breeds to develop a sleeker racing dog - the Alaskan Husky. This new breed resembled the Malamute in so far as it shared its distinctive colouring and markings, but the new breed was no more a freighting dog than the Malamute was a racer (Siino 1997).
Line of Duty:
Ideal hiking companions.
Illustrated by Tana HakansonContinuing into the twentieth century, the indomitable strength, stamina, and courage of the Malamute was again called to duty for the expeditions to Antarctica with Admiral Richard E. Byrd. They were among the many dogs recruited and brought with the two ventures to the south pole. Many perished, succumbing to injury or illness, but they made their impression on the adventurers for being the brave and hardy freighters they were bred to be.
Likewise, the Malamute made valuable contributions to the war efforts during World War II, serving as army dogs. They pulled sleds laden with vital supplies to areas no other vehicles could reach, carried munitions packs, and served as search and rescue dogs. As before, many Malamutes died in the line of their duty, but not without proving their mettle (Siino 1997).
After the turn of the last century the reputation of the Malamute had reached those interested in the more recreational sport of dog racing. New devotees, recently enamoured by the breed, thought to rescue the failing bloodlines before they vanished entirely. The Alaskan Malamute was in poor shape at the time.
Efforts to create the lightweight racing dogs from Malamute stock had been so detrimental to the breed that there were very few pure breeds left.
Interbreeding them with other giant breeds, such as the Saint Bernad, the Malamute was eventually salvaged from decline and the foundation of the current breed emerged, gaining official recognition by the American Kennel Club in 1935 (Siino 1997).
Lore: The Serum Run
Technology and progress has brought us aircraft, snowmobiles and tractors, leaving little use for the freighting dogs these days.
However, the hardy dogs are still capable of feats no machine or vehicle is capable.
In January of 1925 a diphtheria epidemic struck Nome, threatening the lives of local Eskimos for whom the disease is almost always fatal. Serum was desperately needed, and was waiting in aircraft on the ground at Fairbanks. However, a blizzard gripped the area with -50 degree temperatures and winds in excess of 80 miles per hour. No aircraft could leave the ground.
Instead, with the situation grim and getting worse by the day, dog teams worked in relays across the 655 miles between Nenana and Nome, delivering the serum in five and a half days against the most extreme and adverse conditions.
The last driver to reach Nome arrived at 5.30 in the morning, on the 2nd of February, exhausted himself, but his dogs' paws torn and bloody. Nome was saved, and a statue of Balto, the team's lead dog, was erected in New York City's Central Park, honouring the epic heroism of the dogs who made the run.
The Serum Run is a shining example of the indomitable spirit of hardy dogs and men(LeKernec 1998).
It should be noted that Balto's breeding is in question and he was unlikely to be an Alaskan Malamute, but without a doubt there were Malamutes on the sled teams responsible for saving Nome.