As I pulled up to Karen's house and Red Lake Rosie's Rescue after almost 6 hours of driving, i stopped my car to soak in the moment and to prepare myself for time with Ahnung, with Karen, with dogs and cats fortunate enough to make it into Karen's loving care, and for time to help Karen with chores and to learn more about her work and the community and culture of the Red Lake reservation. My very first trip to Red Lake Rosie's was in mid-October. It was on that trip when I first met Ahnung (Karen temporarily named her "Mama" as she was abandoned along with her litter of 8) -- a 2-3 year old black (with some white) lab/pit bull mix whose eyes and spirit captured me from the moment I laid eyes on her in her kennel. Have you ever just had "that feeling" in your gut about someone, something .... that feeling that calls to you, not in words, or even reasoning .... a feeling and an instinct from your core, from your gut? Well... I felt that with Ahnung. I was honored when Karen asked me to give "Mama" a name .... I share my process of how I came up with her name, Ahnung, in a previous blog posting.
In mid-November I returned to Red Lake. Ahnung came home with me to the cities on my transport back and came into Pet Haven's foster program. Diagnosed with heartworm, Ahnung is going through treatment and since mid-November I have been visiting Ahnung every day at Bloomington Vet where she has been cared for and loved, and taking her on outings .... on my most recent trip, I decided to bring Ahnung with me. My intent was to simply foster Ahnung until she was ready to be put up for adoption and then let her go to a loving home. On this most recent trip, I came to realize that letting Ahnung go is not in the stars. Ahnung is my north star. Ahnung is a part or me, of my heart, of my being. She is my tie and connection to Red Lake. There are many reasons to feel a strong bond with Red Lake and the work Karen does up north in the reservation, however, Ahnung solidifies that bond with a spiritual cohesiveness I cannot explain. I made a decision while up north .... that if she gets along with my sometimes alpha dog Missy :) and my partner really truly is okay with it, that I would seriously consider adopting her and making her a permanent addition to our family. Yesterday, I brought Ahnung home to our house and introduced her to Missy and Mister. Within an hour they were all napping and I was able to get lots of work done. My partner spent time last night bonding with Ahnung and has even asked us to present to a class of at-risk kids she works with in a program through the St. Paul Public Schools (The Lab) on Thursday to share more about Pet Haven and Ahnung's story. Ahnung is excited to share her story with kids who have been through what she has been through, and to be a part of an outreach effort working with urban youth!
Every trip I have taken to visit Karen at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue strengthens my desire to help her out as much as I can. The hard work of caring for animals kept me grounded. The persistent dedication and unwaivering compassion of Karen in the midst of harsh conditions and circumstances, along with the incredibly beautiful and peaceful landscape of the reservation, lifted me to a spiritual level. I stayed in the guest room in the cat house with Ahnung. Every morning I woke up to a pleasant aroma of puppy poop and let the puppies out to run around and step all over Ahnung while I cleaned out their kennels and gave them fresh water and food :) Three puppies: Geesis (which means "moon" in Ojibway), Niki and Sunshine were fortunate to be in the warm cat house. Puppies with injuries or in poor health condition are taken out of the outside shelter and brought inside. Geesis had a large bite wound on his head and survived a dog attack; his litter mate Niki has a injured front paw; and Sunshine was found at the Red Lake dumpster extremely malnourished and with mange. All 3 puppies came back with me on the transport to the cities on Monday, 12/15 (in total I transported 14 dogs plus Ahnung!). Karen got more phone calls and requests to take in more abandoned, abused and neglected animals than i even imagined -- in a 3 day period we took in 19 animals and assisted in the rescue of miniature stallion, a donkey, an unwanted mama with a litter of 6 (left out in the frigid cold!), a dumpster pup (Sunshine) ... all the others were brought to the shelter by friends and caring community members of Red Lake.
Morning chores consist of cleaning out pens/kennels (both outside and in the cat house), providing fresh water (this entails pounding the frozen ice in the plastic buckets -- Karen told me not to be afraid to pound as hard as I want on the black plastic buckets with the hammer... i took her words to heart and got lots of upper body exercise pounding on buckets -- it's also a great stress reliever ;-) Mike and Sarah (Karen's niece) came every day to help with chores. Because pens were full, there are several big dogs who get to run "free" -- Grandpa, Clover (feral dog), Ginger, Hazel, and Fawn. Every morning i'd walk Ahnung on leash to go potty, and we would be greeted by the big dog welcoming party ... and then Hazel would, like a best friend does, walk by Ahnung's side as we took our morning stroll. I learned the importance of bundling up .. with windchills dipping down to minus 30 or 40 any exposed skin certainly got numb within a minute :) It was amazing to witness Karen interacting with the dogs -- every dog and cat is given a name shortly after they arrive. Karen knows the personalities of each of the dogs in her shelter. She knows who needs to be walked on leash, who can run free, who is alpha or dominant, who is submissive -- she knows that Grandpa (senior shepherd mix) loves all dogs but has problems with the male dogs so when the big dogs are let out during chores Grandpa goes to rest in the kennel along with Clover (a feral dog who has recently has started being picked on by Fawn who's vying for alpha female status ;-). After the big dogs have been let out to get exercise and all their pens cleaned with fresh straw, water and food put in, then the big dogs go back in their pens, and the puppies and little ones come out. Chore time is well-orchestrated and after a few days, I found myself fitting right into the groove and knowing what needs to be done and not getting in the way!
We would have a 2-3 hour break to get some rest before we resumed work on afternoon chores. In that time I had a chance to absorb the healing and loving energy of the shelter and Karen's work, a chance to hang out with Ahnung in the cat house or go for walks with her (while being surrounded by Grandpa, Ginger, Hazel and Fawn), or simply take time to write/reflect or take photographs.
It is impossible to capture in words the profound impact it had on me to spend time up with Karen at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. Karen took me into Red Lake and showed me around and pointed out the many sites where abused dogs had been found. She pointed out the baseball field where Ode was found wandering with her ears burned. She pointed out where Ahnung and Spice Girl (a boxer mix with an injured leg who had a litter of pups and was abandoned -- Pet Haven took her into our foster program; she has seen been adopted by a very loving family and is doing great!) were found. She pointed our where the Red Lake dumpster was where many, many puppies and kittens are left to die.
Yet, in the midst of all the abuse and suffering of animals, there is a woman, Karen Good, who is the north star for animals of the Red Lake reservation. In the midst of all the suffering, I felt this tremendous sense of hope. I share the belief with Karen that we must hold onto what we can do for these innocent beings. We must believe that each and every one of us can make a difference.
What I continue to learn on a daily basis from the work I do with Pet Haven and Red Lake Rosie's Rescue, is that these abandoned, abused and neglected animals are actually giving us a greater gift. For those of you that feel that Ahnung is the lucky one to have found refuge in my home and in my heart.... what I can tell you is that I am the lucky one that our stars aligned and she came into my life. That something magical, that some mystical about Ahnung (my north star) is helping me heal a deep emotional wound -- and in the process freeing me to move forward in my life with more authenticity, truth and courage.
May we all find our own truth through the loving, forgiving and resilient nature of these beautiful animals.
Thank you Karen
And thank you to each and every one of you for caring.
To view photos from my trip visit my flickr site.