As football fans watch Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, animal lovers will be rooting for four puppies from local shelters in Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XIV.
Ninety puppies from 48 shelters were chosen to compete for the coveted CHEWY.COM “Lombarky” Trophy. “Tail-gating” starts with the pre-game show at 2 p.m. on the Animal Planet cable channel. Coverage of the game, played at bone-shaped GEICO stadium in New York City, begins at 3 p.m., more than three hours before Super Bowl kickoff in Minneapolis.
One of the Puppy Bowl contestants hails from Animal Friends in Ohio Township. Three are from All But Furgotten animal rescue in North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County.
Spoiler alert: The game is over. Team Ruff faced off against Team Fluff in October, when the local pups were about 3 months old. What we’ll see on Animal Planet is two hours of edited film footage of the best plays. And while Puppy Bowl executive producer Simon Morris was marvelously helpful and entertaining in a telephone interview, he wouldn’t say who won. He did say one of our local pups is a star player.
The game kicks off with Jokgu, the piano-playing chicken from Season 12 of “America’s Got Talent,” pecking out “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the keyboard. During the game, puppies score touchdowns by carrying toys from sponsor Chewy.com across the goal line.
Those who love sloths will be happy to hear that a sloth named Shirley is the assistant referee. Although the TV crew wasn’t expecting the sloth in the black-and-white bandanna to move much, Shirley delighted everyone by crawling across the field and hanging from the goal post.
The Puppy Bowl also features baby barnyard cheerleaders — ducklings, piglets and bunnies — working the sidelines to fire up fans. All are rescues. Shelter cats star in the Arm & Hammer half-time show and Meep, an African grey parrot (@MeepTheBird) will provide live updates on Instagram and Twitter throughout the game.
Now let’s meet the local canine contestants:
Aquaman is a treeing Walker coonhound born at the Animal Friends shelter. Each of the eight puppies in his litter received a super hero name, including Batman, Superman and Huntress.
Volunteers at All But Furgotten confiscated Sunny and Bailey from hoarders, and Frankie came from a shelter in the South where a high percentage of animals are euthanized. The group includes four humane agents who receive no pay to investigate cases of neglect and abuse.
Although Sunny and Bailey look like terrier mixes, Furgotten volunteer Erin Cassidy said they aren’t sure of their breeds. The Puppy Bowl website lists Sunny as a starter and suggests she is a mix of pit/American Staffordshire terrier/Rottweiler.
“Everybody fell in love with Sunny,” said Ms. Cassidy, who drove the puppies to New York with volunteer Melanie Wedge and her daughter, Madison. “Sunny scored a touchdown,” so she thinks we’ll see the little brindled pup on television.
Frankie, a husky mix with one blue and one brown eye “was rather overwhelmed by it all. I don’t think we’ll see her in the bowl.”
All four puppies have since been adopted. Frankie was adopted by Shelly Doyle of Irwin, a Furgotten volunteer. Sunny and Bailey were adopted in New York by people who volunteered at the Puppy Bowl filming.
Aquaman spent three days with Cody Hoellerman, the communications coordinator at Animal Friends who drove the pup to and from the game. “He was fantastic in the car and at the Puppy Bowl.”
Weighing 20 pounds, “Aquaman was one of the biggest puppies,” Mr. Hoellerman said.
“They split the puppies into smaller groups for the filming, and the big puppies were separate from the little ones. It was really good puppy socialization. It was as cute a day as I ever spent. We really bonded, and it was tough to walk away from Aquaman after that experience.”
When he returned, the puppy was quickly adopted by Sara Birckbichler and D.J. Dorko of Carrick. They were won over by his friendly disposition, hound dog ears and feet that were disproportionately large for his body. They named him Dak.
“Animal Friends didn’t tell us he was in Puppy Bowl until after we signed the adoption papers,” Ms. Birckbichler said. “We’re very excited about that, and we’re telling everyone who will listen.”
The couple both are football fans, “and we tried to give him a Pittsburgh football name,” she said. They tried Ben (after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) and the names of other Steelers.
“He didn’t respond to those names, but he did answer to Dak,” the first name of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
Dak now weighs about 30 pounds and is cute, cuddly, affectionate, smart and eager to please. The high-energy hound’s favorite toy is a puppy-sized football.
Puppy Bowl XIV is produced for Animal Planet by Discovery Studios. Go to AnimalPlanet.com/PuppyBowl to see the starting lineup and other information. During the game, you can cast your vote on the website for the Bissell MVP — Most Valuable Puppy.
At 8 p.m. Feb. 3, Animal Planet will air “Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl,” featuring adult dogs living in rescues and shelters. Locally, Frankie is the special guest at a Puppy Bowl viewing party at 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Larimer Fire Hall, 1340 Brownstown Road in North Huntingdon (15647). Admission is free, but there will be baskets and raffles to raise money for All But Furgotten’s shelter. They earlier raised $75,000 to buy a kennel in Irwin, and renovations are about 75 percent complete.
The 2017 Puppy Bowl had 2.5 million viewers. Puppy Bowl XIV will repeat all day and night for a total of 10 hours.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064 or on Facebook.