Healing wounded spirits … just one of our shared stories …

It’s spring, 2009. I am standing in front of a classroom of 9th graders, comprised of at-risk youth at a school in St. Paul. Next to me is my dog Ahnung. I share with the students how my journey led me here; how grief, pain, not feeling like I belonged, led me to volunteering to help abandoned, neglected animals find homes.

I met Ahnung in October 2008 at Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota. She was nursing her 8 puppies; her nipples were full and almost touching the ground. She looked worn down and haggard. A solid black dog with unique white markings: one white front paw, patches of white on her face, a white chest and a curly black tail with a white tip.

She gazed at me. She had pellets in her body; she had no front teeth from grinding it down in search of food. Ahnung’s early year were hard and full of struggles. Her body held scars of her past.

“What does Ahnung mean?”, asks one of the kids. “Star”, I respond. “it means star in ojibway, the language of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. I wanted a name representing her roots and because she has been my north star guiding me through a very dark period in my life.”

As I look out at a room of kids intent on hearing my story and Ahnung’s story I realize that the light shining from Ahnung’s star is so much brighter than I even imagined. These kids are deemed “at-risk”. These kids, like Ahnung, have been tossed aside. My eyes scan the room. Ahnung walks up to a young kid who has been staring blankly out the window. She lays down next to him. Minutes later, the kid’s hand begins gently stroking Ahnung’s back. No words. Ahnung lays still like a service dog, as if she knows, this is exactly what the boy needs.

Wounded spirits. Like the young kid, I too was a wounded spirit.

I arrived in the U.S. when I was 16 from Thailand. The complexities and trauma I buried deep inside of me began to unravel when I arrived in a foreign country where I stood out. I was a brown skin. I began to apologize for being brown. I chose assimilation to a white culture in order to survive.

As a child I was hurt so deeply by humans. I learned not to trust humans. It took a being with four paws, Ahnung, to open my heart and teach me how to trust again. Ahnung was doing just that for these kids deemed ‘at risk’. Ahnung (now from the spirit world) continues to guide me in finding my way back home to my roots.

The young boy keeps stroking Ahnung, then softly says, “man … this dog is loved. This dog is really loved.” I see an aliveness emerge from the young boy.

His teachers asks me after class, how did your dog know?

I smile.

“She just knows”.

ml and ahnung the lab