Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ahnung - helping kids find their way

This past weekend I attended a workshop offered by MN LINC (Minnesota Linking Individuals Nature and Critters) titled "Kids and Dogs: Canine Facilitated Mental Health Protocols for At-Risk Youth". I believe my path led me to this workshop. Coincidences. I guess i'm not a believer in coincidences. I believe everything in our lives happen for a reason -- we just may not know it at the time.

My partner runs a program of St. Paul Public Schools called The Lab which is an arts and wellness-based program serving at-risk youth grades 7 through 12. Last year I began volunteering at The Lab along with our dog Ahnung (Ah-NUNG)..... I believe Ahnung found me. I met her for the first time in October, 2008 on a trip up north to Red Lake Rosie's Rescue: an animal rescue on the Red Lake Reservation in northwestern Minnesota where the founder's vision is "to change the way we relate to and treat companion animals throughout the Red Lake Nation."On that trip I met Ahnung for the first time ... recently abandoned/dumped along with her litter of eight. Ahnung, who now has a blog of her own, shared the video below on her first blog entry. Her story is one that has been shared with the youth at The Lab; her story is what touches their hearts, and mine; her story is what "R" (a kid Ahnung developed a relationship with over the year as they both learned to open and trust more) said to me is what's most important when we visit classrooms.

Through Ahnung I found healing in a profound way -- for myself and the kids. I witnessed healing in kids whose lives carried parallels of the dogs we rescued. There is something incredibly powerful and healing in the bond and connection between animals and humans.... multiply that ten fold in working with at-risk youth.

This past weekend, at the nudging and encouragement of my partner, I signed up for the Kids and Dogs workshop through MN LINC: Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday! The class was taught by Tanya Welsch and Molly DePrekel, co-founders of MN LINC who did a phenomenal job in facilitating the workshop and balancing content and theory with experiential learning. The Kids and Dogs program was designed to link youth who are experiencing behavioral or emotional difficulties with animal shelter dogs. I left the workshop with so many new tools (12 week lesson plans, the opportunity to learn about TTouch (Tellington Touch), calming signals, positive reinforcement training/clicker training, and group facilitation skills) ... I also left with new connections and my head spinning with ideas and possibilities on how to bring this important work out to the general public.

Ahnung and I are committed to continuing this work. We are volunteering again this year at The Lab. She recently passed her Canine Good Citizen test (I can't take much credit for it, as she's a natural ;-) We are continuing our work in obedience and will also be taking the therapy dog class and working towards getting registered as a therapy dog through Delta Society. One of the things I absolutely loved about the training this past weekend is how Tanya and Molly both emphasized the importance of tuning into your dog.

Many of us go through life as if it's a 100 meter dash .... we race to the finish line, and when we get there, take off again -- and before we know it, we don't know even know anymore why we are running. Dogs are trying to communicate with us. We need to learn how to communicate with them. In turn, we will learn more about ourselves and listening to our own bodies, our own cues......

Ahnung means "star" in ojibway. She is my north star. She is the bright light I hold onto in darkness.

With Ahnung as my partner ... we hope to help kids who have lost their way, find their star and find their way back, to a place they can call home and a place that feels safe.

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