Puppies in the End Zone

The 2014 Puppy Bowl is a big deal, not just because it’s cute and funny, but because its emphasis is adoption.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve never stuck to the TV for an entire Super Bowl football game, but I’ve been riveted to the television for nine Puppy Bowls on Discovery’s Animal Planet, each more action-packed than the last. Even people who don’t have dogs watch the Puppy Bowl, the non-football fan’s cuter alternative to the big game.

Puppy Bowl. Damian Strohmeyer/Animal Planet

This year, the Puppy Bowl turns a tender 10 years old, and if the viewership numbers for 2013’s Puppy Bowl is any indication of its popularity, it should garner over 12 million watchers. And what’s more, the Puppy Bowl is making a run for the end zone with its emphasis on shelter dogs in 2014, which should make this year the best Puppy Bowl ever.

To celebrate a decade of puppy parody, Animal Planet opened a 15,000 square foot “Puppy Bowl Experience” in the Discovery Time’s Square exhibition space close to New York City’s Times Square, a weeklong tail-gate party complete with a Puppy Bowl Stadium and rescue puppies playing with football-shaped toys inside of it, refereed, of course, by volunteers from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals carrying paper towels and disinfectant.

The ASPCA has a presence at the Puppy Bowl Experience, with binders full of rescue dogs and lots of information about adoption. Every day, a different rescue in the area brings puppies and dogs (and on one day, kitttens) for the public to meet and apply to adopt.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you know that I’m an advocate for the “little guy,” the small rescues who work tirelessly to save dogs with few dollars  and few volunteers. I cringe when a big organization spends a large amount of cash on a rescue event to save a few dogs, when those same funds would  do so much good in the hands of those in the dog rescue trenches, possibly saving even more lives. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but see the value of Puppy Bowl Experience as I watched people ogle the playing puppies and ask for information about adoption. Humane education is also an important part of preventing dogs from ending up homeless.

The 2014 Puppy Bowl is a big deal, not just because it’s cute and funny, but because it’s emphasis is adoption. All of the puppies playing in the Puppy Bowl are up for adoption, and many have been adopted already (the footage for the “game” was filmed in October). We will see these adoption stories unfold as the Puppy Bowl plays out.

Showing dog rescue stories to 12 million people is important because they illustrate to a wide audience that rescue dogs aren’t throw-aways and rejects – they can become the Most Valuable Player in the Puppy Bowl – or your best friend.

My one grievance with the event – and the Puppy Bowl – is that it emphasizes puppies, while many  older dogs die every year because people overlook them for their younger counterparts. To the Puppy Bowl Experience’s credit, older dogs up for adoption are in attendance – there’s even a three-legged Shih Tzu mix ready for a new home. Puppies are definitely good at getting people in the door, and then I imagine that rescuers could sing the praises of the more mature mutts on hand.

Puppy Bowl. Damian Strohmeyer/Animal Planet

Steve Gruber of the Mayor’s Alliance of NYC’s Animals, another rescue organization affiliated with the Puppy Bowl Experience in Times Square, told me that the adoptable dogs have been received very well by the public, with many adoption applications filled out (the dogs don’t go home with a potential adopter until the new home has been cleared by the organization).

Unfortunately, Animal Planet does not have plans for another Puppy Bowl Experience, since this event is meant to celebrate 10 years of Puppy Bowl triumph, but maybe if it’s successful enough they’ll consider bringing it back. If you’re in New York City, the Puppy Bowl Experience ends Feb. 1st,, 2014 at 7 p.m., and it’s free to the public.

Overall, I’m impressed with the thoughtfulness Animal Planet put into the Puppy Bowl Experience. Every part of the event is dedicated to both fun and education, and there’s even an ID tag stand, where anyone can pick up a free custom ID tag for their pet, which, as we know, can help your dog return home – not to a shelter – should he become lost. They thought of everything. Touchdown!

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