Rustle up the kibble and let the fur fly. It’s time for “Puppy Bowl.”
Animal Planet’s cute annual counter-programming to the Big Game returns for its lucky 13th year, and its pooch players show no sign of slowing down. But before you unleash the hounds on your TVs this Sunday, here are 13 things to know about this year’s “Puppy Bowl.”
1. Doggies Do No. 2: “Puppy Bowl” is the second-highest rated programming after the Big Game that day. In 2016, it drew 2.2 million viewers opposite the Big Game and a whopping 9.3 million viewers total in repeats over 12 hours.
2. The Pups Are Alright: In the wake of the animal abuse allegations against “A Dog’s Purpose,” animal lovers want assurances that their entertainment isn’t causing critters harm or distress. “Puppy Bowl” has worked with the American Humane Association every year and has animal wranglers, trainers, volunteers and a vet on hand during shoots.
American Humane’s Sandi Buck, a certified animal safety representative, told IndieWire, “I have worked with Animal Planet on ‘Puppy Bowl’ since the first year of filming, and they have always done an amazing job of providing what is needed to care for the puppies and other critters we have on set and make everything safe and comfortable for them.
“I am looking for the overall well-being of each of the puppies. That includes their health (each puppy is required to have their vet records and health certificate with them when they arrive and they get examined by our on site vet), that they are friendly and comfortable being around other puppies, that they have food and water available to them all day, a place to exercise and a place to rest. While on set, I watch each of the puppies to be sure they are comfortable being there. If they are scared at all we remove them from the set and send them back to the puppy green room to relax with their puppy [human] parent. I also watch for any puppies being too rambunctious or aggressive to other puppies. If I see this happening, then that pup is removed from the set and given some downtime to relax. I also work with the set designers to be sure all of the set designs, props, toys etc. are safe.”
Producer Simon Morris also added that “Puppy Bowl” is shot to allow for the puppy’s natural behaviors, with no demands for certain actions. “You just can’t produce animals like you might want to produce a reality show normally with humans,” he said. “There’s no way we could make a dog take a toy over here, run to the end zone and score a touchdown. It’s not going to happen.”
3. “Puppy Bowl” Tryouts: Shelters from all over the United States participate in “Puppy Bowl,” which calls attention to adoption opportunities everywhere in the country. The puppies do not actually do anything; instead, the shelters submit puppies of at least three months old that have had all of their shots and have the right personalities for the gridiron.
“They’ll choose and submit a certain number of pups, totally dependent on how big their shelter is,” said Morris. “Sometimes they’ll submit five pups, sometimes they’ll submit 20.”
4. Who Makes the Cut: Morris explained, “We ended up with 78 pups this year. We just want there to be a mix of breeds, because we know dog fans all have their different breeds they love. Although, all of our pups are rescues, a lot of them aren’t going to be purebred. A lot of them look predominately like a certain breed. And then sizes: We have four groups of sizes because we don’t want to mix our tiny pups with our huge pups, so Group 1 is the tiny ones, Group 2 is sort of medium, and up like that.”
5. Special Needs Pups: Three of the starting lineup this year included dogs with special needs. Doobert is deaf, Winston is deaf and partially blind, and Lucky is missing one of her front legs after it got caught in a crate and had to be amputated.
“One thing that shelters have been saying to us recently is that it is harder for them to find homes for special needs pups,” said Morris. “So it was something actually we really wanted to focus on this year. And amazingly we have three special needs pups, and all of them actually do already have forever homes.”
6. How Much Is That Doggy in the Window? By the time you watch the game, most of the dogs will already have been adopted because the new owner has already visited the shelter that had submitted the puppy. But fear not! There are oodles of poodles, so to speak, to adopt at all times in shelters.
Morris said, “It might be that someone says, ‘I really wanted this one,’ but normally we’ve found we hear stories all the time that the shelters work with them to find another adorable pup that might look a bit similar to that one or is of a similar breed. It might be in a year, it might be a few weeks down the line, or in a month or so, but they end up with a great fit.
“In the last two years we’ve been pushing our adoption message a bit more so…at animalplanet.com/adopt we document all links to all the shelters that appear in the show and so that’s the way that people can practically check in with those shelters and find those pups very quickly.”
7. Puppies Still Needing Forever Homes: There is still one more “Puppy Bowl” starting line-up dog who has not been claimed: Oliver. He’s a 12-week-old standard poodle-type who is from the Florida Little Dog Rescue.
As a bonus, “Puppy Bowl” will feature another special needs dog who still needs a home. Francis is not a stadium player, but will be featured in his own backstory video because his hind legs are paralyzed.
“We’re hoping that people watching will see that and we might find Francis a home as well,” said Morris. “He has a little kind of wheelchair they set him on for outside. It’s just tough I think that with a pup like that, even more than our little tripod pup. He’s a bigger dog, he’s like a lab mix, and he’s quite heavy. And he’s only just over a year, but I think the foster person has found it’s really been a tough ask because people see it would be a bit of work to look after him. So she knows it needs to be the right kind of family who’d be willing to put that work in.”
8. A Full Menagerie: “Puppy Bowl” is not species-ist and features many other non-canine critters as well that have been rescued, including the cats in the Kitty Halftime Show.
“We have two mascots, the screech owl is one of the mascots for Team Ruff. We have a rescue chinchilla who is our fluffy mascot for Team Fluff,” he said. “The cheerleaders this year are a mix of rescue bunnies, of various breeds — Angora, we’ve got a little dwarf rabbit — and guinea pigs. And there’s the hamster that powers the ‘Puppy Bowl’ scoreboard. We have the hamster on the little wheel doing his thing to make sure the lights are all on in the stadium.”
Most of these animals are adoptable as well, with the exception of the screech owl who is not a pet for the average American household. Hoo? Yeah, we’re talking about you.
9. Ancestry Dog Com: “Puppy Bowl” teamed up with a DNA testing outfit called Embark this year that tested the genes of all 78 pups. With the results, an owner can better plan for the proper nutrition, exercise and veterinary care needed for their pup. “Puppy Bowl” also used these stats to reveal more about their puppy players.
Morris explained, “We have a Chow Chow who loved pulling on his teammates’ bandanas and we just got a great fact about it. Like we found out this guy is mainly Chow Chow… and Chow Chows have extra teeth than most other dogs, so there’s a reason he’s been chewing everyone so much. So that was a really nice way to dig a little bit deeper into the pups and what they’re about.”
10. “Puppy Bowl” Partners: “We want to partner with brands that have the same heart for adoption and fostering that we do and the whole show,” Morris said. “Puppy Bowl” found likeminded companies in Bissell, which has their own separate pet foundation, and Subaru, which donates to the ASPCA and helps out with the “Rescue Rides,” which relocate animals from overcrowded shelters to ones where adoptions are more likely. Subaru is sponsoring “Puppy Bowl’s” video “Pup Close and Personal” segments.
11. Purrfect Halftime Show: “Puppy Bowl’s” traditional halftime show featuring the feline kind takes it to the next level this year. Kitty Gaga will perform one of her hits, accompanied by the Chicago Rock Cats. “We’re working with the Chicago Rock Cats, which is the world’s only all-feline rock band,” said Morris. “I went to see them in Chicago myself, and they genuinely play these instruments. Their trainers are there, and there’s a cat strumming a guitar, a cat playing the keyboard. It was so funny and really entertaining.” Check out a teaser of the halftime show below:
12. Celebrity Guest: In the past, “Puppy Bowl” has had the honor of hosting Michelle Obama, Lil’ Bub and even Keyboard Cat. This year, the show will welcome a famous rodent. “We have actually the original legendary Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog,” said Morris. “He is our coin toss special guest. That took a bit of negotiation, but we managed to get him to come. We got the contract ironed out.”
13. A Bird By Any Other Name Would Tweet as Sweet: “We have our Meep the bird. He’s the one that tweets out the game, but we have a new Meep this year,” Morris revealed. “He’s an African Grey Parrot. Our last [cockatiel] star was still using a Blackberry, so we kind of felt it was time to move on to more modern devices.”
“Puppy Bowl” airs on Animal Planet on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT and repeats throughout the day.