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When Animals Teach Us to be Better Humans

April 10, 2023

Another Way for week of March 31, 2023

When Animals Teach Us to be Better Humans

The evening was freezing with rapidly approaching darkness. My husband needed help hooking up a trailer to his truck so he could make an early morning run to a metal recycling center. I wished I was inside cozily watching a TV program. But something kept me from complaining or being mad.

I had just finished reading a fascinating, well-written book about a family who decided to spend one fall and winter in Alaska training their team of Siberian Husky dogs to run the Yukon Quest dog sledding race in the darkest days of February. I was remembering the author’s descriptions of their 40-50 degrees below zero temperatures, and the added windchill of sharp 50-75 mph winds. All of a sudden, I felt warm, like my small shivers were not a big deal.

Running North: A Yukon Adventure by Ann Mariah Cook (1998, Algonquin Books) will take you on an adventure you will probably never have in person, and perhaps teach you a mountain of things you may not know about dogs. Ann and her husband George Cook took their three-year-old daughter also on this wild adventure, with Ann helping as a side-handler for George who competed in the actual race: steering, pushing with his own leg power at times, and taking care of the pack.

When you think of amazingly smart and somewhat human animals, we may think of monkeys, dolphins, elephants and more. Certainly dogs belong on that list, I am finding out.

The writer, Ann, described several of their dogs. If their typical steel blue eyes are not enough to fascinate you, perhaps these tendencies will:

  • Their dog Minnie was first on the list to be chosen for the dog team. Ann described her as a “solider of a dog, so much of a soldier she … seemed to pride herself on immediate response…. George had to be careful not to give a command too soon or Minnie would veer off in whichever direction she was told at exactly the moment she was told,” regardless of whether it was the direction George was pursuing in his mind for the pack.
  • Another key leader dog, Lightening, had experienced the difficulties of the Iditarod trek, who’s “cool-headedness and lightheartedness were definitely an asset to the team.”
  • A dog they called Taro, was at the front of the line; the family called him a “crazy Frenchman” because he was passionate about both his food and affections. “He ate with gusto, barking and squealing delightedly between bites. He didn’t just let his loved ones pet him: ‘He rubbed his body all over us, drowning himself in our scents and vice versa.’”
  • A dog, Boomer, was described like this: “He did his work, ate his food, and minded his own business. Teamed with Pete, he could move mountains; these two were well-matched in power and stride.”
  • Finally, I loved this description of a small female dog, Shasta. “A mere 38 pounds, she was fast and stronger than she looked. She kept the pressure on the leader dogs by running close behind them as if to say, “I will have your job if you slack up.”

There are more descriptions in the book.

I enjoy reading about dogs because it seems to help me understand our dog better, such as her devotion to my husband. She follows him almost anywhere, even when he is exercising his leg on a home stationary bike. She knows the exercises are painful and gives him faithful, moral support, perhaps even better than I can give.

I won’t spoil the ending of this book in case you decide to check it out, but it truly moved me in wanting to be kind and loving both to our dog and cat, but even more to the humans in our lives.


Any dog racers here? Adventures with pets?

What have your pets taught you?

Comment here or write to me at Another Way, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834, or email

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of ten books, most recently Memoir of an Unimagined Career. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Very entertaining post. We don’t have a dog now, but we did when the children lived at home. Various dogs on leashes entertain we nowadays on the sidewalk outside my studio window.

    I will be on a blog break from now to the end of the month.
    Enjoy your dog!

    • I’m sure you are happy not to worry about a dog…. 🙂 and it was nice you had one when your children were home. Our grandsons certainly enjoy our dog too.

  2. This is such an interesting and heartwarming post! It’s amazing how our experiences with animals can teach us to be better humans. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. I am convinced that both my dog and cat are very intuitive! They know when I am sad and need extra attention. Animals are truly the best.

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