Kim Nami has an innate talent to make her canine friends feel at ease. The retiree shares her passion towards helping traumatised dogs in Chiang Mai, a province which she has made her home, by being there for them during rough periods in their life by using her gift as a dog whisperer. Her heartfelt dedication towards her furry companions is truly inspiring to anyone that has had the privilege to meet her.
Each morning, Kim will leave her apartment on the bustling Nimman-heminda Road and head to the dog shelter at the city's outskirts. Wearing a long apron, she is armed with tools such as scissors for cutting dogs' hair, biscuits and even boiled chicken meat.
After greeting all the animals in the home, she darts towards her patients, mostly traumatised dogs rescued from communities within Chiang Mai and nearby provinces. It is obvious at first glance that some have suffered severe trauma, both physically and emotionally, at the hands of evil people.
Dogs with particularly poor medical conditions, such as paralysis and deteriorating skin diseases, seem to ostracise themselves by finding solitude away from the pack.
While the Korean animal lover is not a vet, she is blessed with a special skill to address a canine's emotional state of mind, much like a psychiatrist. She doesn't consider herself a dog expert, as most of her career has involved teaching religion at Seoul's Hansin University.
She has penned 14 books so far on religious topics. Though Kim has never included herself in any particular Buddhist sect, she practices Vipassana meditation. All she professes to be is a dog lover, having kept dogs as pets since she was a kid and having dedication to her four-legged buddies.
It was very much by accident that Kim stumbled upon what she calls her special "telepathic" powers to communicate with dogs. She puts the acquisition of the skill to become a "dog whisperer" down to practising Vipassana meditation.
"Being a dog whisperer is different from training a dog," she explained. "Dog training for me equates to dominating the dog, while to be a dog whisperer means listening to it."
After retiring as a university lecturer, Kim followed her dream to live in Chiang Mai. After six months in the northern city, she decided to use her talent to work with troubled, stray dogs she found in town. It didn't take her long to begin volunteering at the local dog shelter.
While most volunteers/staff only feed or attended to the general needs of the animals, Kim selected the ones that were suffering emotionally, to use her skills to understand how to help them better.
"Dogs suffer from trauma, both physically and emotionally, like humans. Whisperers heal traumatised dogs that suffer from heavy stress, or who have gone through immense cruelty. When I am able to connect with a hound, I start a conversation with them. Basically, what I do is to ask the dog to open its mind, share its story, and then I apologise for what humans have done to it."
On the day Life spoke with Kim, she was working with a dog named Bodhi, whose rear legs are paralysed.
The female dog was rescued from Lamphun province.
During their first meeting, Bodhi shivered with fear. She did not dare to make eye contact with people for fear of being harmed, especially if that person carried anything resembling a stick. She would shudder even at someone who had a chopstick in his hand, said Kim. Bodhi spent months hidden in a corner, never stepping outside her comfort zone to see the world.
"For two months, I worked on Bodhi," shared Kim. "I apologised to her and talked to her in a comforting manner, begging her to open her heart and share her story. I can sometimes hear her heart cry."
When approaching a dog patient, Kim lowers herself down and pictures herself as a dog. Sometimes she spends the night in the cage with the anxious animal. Her head and the dog's head touch, which she says bridges the soul. She cries when realising how cruel humans can be with their best friends.
"Dogs can feel and they can tell. Whispering is a kind of energy that the animal can tangibly experience. It really helps," she insists.
After months of working with Bodhi, she has begun to show improvement. Her eyes show no more fear, she looks stronger emotionally and is now more open to exploring her environment. The hound uses her two front legs to show excitement, and begins to make doggy sounds, as her curious eyes meet Kim's.
"When I see the dog's condition improve, even if it's a drop in the ocean, I feel so happy. Anyway, I feel ashamed to tell them I am a Korean. Korean people enjoy dog meat. Dog farming is about to be legalised in [South] Korea as well. So that is a real disappointment."
Kim works with no more than two dogs at a time. She finds it especially difficult to work with hounds that show no will to live. She says no matter what effort she puts in to reviving their enthusiasm for life, such animals just don't respond. Even though this is utterly disappointing, Kim is learning to respect their wishes.
Kim shared a story about a dog named Nang Fah, whom she recently had to bring home from the shelter. A mere 25cm long, the mongrel was heartlessly raised in a tiny bird cage for three years by her owners. She shivers with fear when a stranger approaches her. Kim hopes love and attention, not to mention addressing the dog's innermost pain, will put her latest patient on the road to recovery.
"I have kept dogs since the age of seven, I can't live without them," said Kim. "They have been everything to me. My calling in life today is to help them to the best of my ability."
About the author
- Writer: Peerawat Jariyasombat
Position: Travel Reporter