Happy World Dog Day!
(pictured above: Marcel Ravidat with his dog, Robot, after the discovery of the Lascoux caves)
In celebration of our favorite furry friends, we wanted to highlight some dogs that have changed human history.
Alaska, 1925. A diphtheria epidemic had just broken out in Nome, Alaska, and the only medicine lay in the Anchorage hospital one thousand miles away. The medicine was delivered as far as Nenana, which was still 674 miles away, and it seemed as though there was no way to transport the serum to the children suffering from diphtheria and save their lives. Finally, after officials in Nome and Nenana had exchanged telegraphs about how they could possibly get the antitoxins to Nome, a solution was found: sled dogs.
The plan was to have one team of sled dogs carry the medicine from Nenana to Nukato, and then switch to a fresh team for the remainder 315 miles. And the leader of this second team? Balto, a Siberian husky who has made his mark on history. Balto and his team traveled 84 miles a day in brutal weather conditions, making a journey that would normally take the postal service 25 days in less than a week. Two days before the serum expired, the group was caught in a whiteout blizzard, and the mushers (people steering the dog sleds) were completely blind in the snow. Thanks to the sled dogs, with their heightened senses, extraordinary speed, and determination the diphtheria antibiotics were delivered in time and the children of Nome, Alaska were saved.
One summer afternoon in Switzerland, George de Mestral, inventor and mountaineer, decided to take his dog Mika for a walk. Upon returning, he found burs stuck to her fur and, the inventor that he was, decided to try and create something with them. De Mestral observed the burs underneath a microscope and found tiny hooks covering their surface, which allowed the burs to stick to clothes, socks, shoelaces - and dog fur. By using nylon sewn under infrared light to create the hooks of “burs,” de Mestral created Velcro, an easy-to-use fastener that required only a small amount of pressure to attach itself firmly to clothes, but would come apart easily when necessary.
Throughout history, there have been cases of innovation inspired by nature, where people observe the wonders of the world around them and build upon them. Biomimicry has been at the source of so many inventions that we take for granted, and in some cases, it’s animals that provide us with the incentive.
As World War II was sweeping through Europe and Germany had captured most of France, a revolutionary discovery was made in the south of the country, in a region called Dordogne. Marcel Ravidat was out hunting in the woods, along with a small group of friends and his dog, Robot.
As the story goes, Robot was chasing a rabbit and followed it down a hole. The five boys that accompanied him searched for the white and brown mutt and pursued him underneath the foliage, which led to a wide cave. Ravidat lifted his dim oil lamp up to the walls and saw the intricately drawn shapes of animals, some of which had been extinct for thousands of years. He observed the blurred lines to create motion and the different pigments used for the varying shades of animal fur. Paleontologists have dated the art as being created 20,000 years ago, one of the earliest known examples of man-made art and some of the most evolved in the area, with incredibly detailed and sophisticated portrayals of horses and deers. Today, we know the cave as Lascoux, and it remains one of the most impressive examples of cave art in history - and we have Robot to thank for this impactful discovery.