Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Rook, who is approximately 3, sits on her owner Amanda Burke's lap at the St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 in Kenai, Alaska. Rook, who was rescued and is paralyzed in her back two legs, is an award-winning scenting dog.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Rook, who is approximately 3, sits on her owner Amanda Burke's lap at the St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 in Kenai, Alaska. Rook, who was rescued and is paralyzed in her back two legs, is an award-winning scenting dog.

Blessing of the Animals brings out pet lovers

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Amanda Burg’s name.

Rook, a little black and brown mixed-breed dog, started out her life with all four legs, but that likely didn’t last long. She’s been paralyzed in her back two legs as long as her owner has known her.

She hasn’t let it keep her down, though. Today, she gets around efficiently on her front two legs to visit with strangers and investigate new smells. Her owner, Amanda Burg, helps her out with a hammock-style lift for her back legs sometimes, and she has a cart she can pull behind her. She also participates in scent work — challenges where dogs sniff out a particular target after smelling a sample of it — and wins ribbons without any help for her back legs.

A group of citizen volunteers on the central Kenai Peninsula rescued the approximately three-year-old dog along with 34 others from a home in Soldotna in 2014, where the owners gave them up voluntarily. Burg said she isn’t sure what caused the paralysis.

“We think she got hit by a car,” she said.

Rook perched confidently on Burg’s lap at the St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church in Kenai on Sunday as other canines, felines and a few rabbits swirled around the room to receive blessings. Clergy from the Episcopal church and from the nearby Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church hosted their second Blessing of the Animals event on Sunday for animal owners to come and receive the traditional blessing.

The Blessing of the Animals is a traditional event in many Christian churches celebrated on or near Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th- and 13th-century preacher known for his love of nature and animals. Kevin Woodvine, a deacon from Our Lady of the Angels, and Marian Nickelson, a deacon at the Episcopal church, came up with the idea to have the event separate from church services, where the blessings are usually done. They and Father Tom Rush of Our Lady of the Angels blessed a crowd of animals Sunday — mostly dogs, but two cats and two rabbits also stopped by.

“It’s a nice way to se all the kids and the families,” Rush said. “The kids are really willing to talk about their pets.”

It wasn’t just a religious ceremony, though. Peninsula Dog Obedience Group and the Kenai chapter of the AmericanKennel Club also brought materials for pet owners who came. Peninsula Dog Obedience Group, or PenDOG, offers the scent work classes that Rook participates in. Burke serves as PenDOG’s secretary and said the nonprofit also offers basic obedience classes.

The American Kennel Club in Kenai offers obedience classes as well and helps owners train for competitions, hosts dog shows and obedience classes such as Puppy Kindergarten. Though the American Kennel Club’s mission statement expressly says the club exists to “advance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purebred dogs,” mixed-breed dogs are not automatically excluded from shows. Beginning in 2009, the American Kennel Club opened up standalone events and membership benefits for mixed-breed dogs.

The events aren’t always even necessarily competitions — sometimes they’re just a way for dogs and their owners to have a good time, said Allison Williams, who works with the Kenai chapter of the American Kennel Club.

“It’s just a fun thing for people to do with their dogs,” she said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Panda, a rescue dog, sits on the pew beside his owner Deacon Kevin Woodvine, one of the clergy blessing pets at a Blessing of the Animals event at the St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Panda, a rescue dog, sits on the pew beside his owner Deacon Kevin Woodvine, one of the clergy blessing pets at a Blessing of the Animals event at the St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 in Kenai, Alaska.

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