When Moby, a French bulldog, arrived at Harley’s Haven Dog Rescue in Perkasie, he had been delivered via cesarean section just 30 minutes earlier. Born with a cleft palate, he required round-the-clock care in his early days of life.
When Forrest, a Neapolitan mastiff-cane corso mix, arrived at Brandywine Valley SPCA after being seized from his former owners in a Chester County cruelty case, he was in such bad shape he had lost an eye. Tater Tot, an American Staffordshire terrier-pit bull terrier mix, was found abandoned in a vacant home. And Brooke, a beagle-treeing walker coonhound mix, came up as a pup from an overcrowded shelter in the South, where she was left in a box with her eight siblings.
And when sisters Missy and Blondie, both beagle-Australian cattle dog mixes, were born at Providence Animal Center in Media, their pregnant mom, Cricket, had recently arrived from an overcrowded Southern shelter, too.
But despite their tough beginnings — and, in some cases, abandonment or mistreatment by former owners — these local dogs have found happy homes. And, as a bonus, they’re all heading to the Puppy Bowl.
In its 18th year, the 2022 Puppy Bowl will show off more than 100 pups from 67 shelters and rescues from around the country — including six in the Philadelphia area that are sending 10 dogs in total. And while Puppy Bowl is known for being a painfully cute event that pits Team Ruff against Team Fluff for the “Lombarky” trophy on Super Bowl Sunday, for many of these rescues and shelters, it means a lot more than just entertainment.
Puppy Bowl is “breaking the stereotypes of what adoption means and what shelters have,” said Linda Torelli, chief marketing officer of Brandywine Valley SPCA. “Some people think that shelters only have ‘broken animals,’ or animals that no one else wants, or animals with lots of issues. The truth is, these are terrific companions that come here for a wide variety of reasons. In most cases, it has nothing to do with the pets themselves.”
In addition to raising awareness, it also combats the misconception that shelters typically have only adult or senior dogs available, said Justina Calgiano, director of advancement and public relations at Providence Animal Shelter. After all, every dog in Puppy Bowl comes from a shelter, “so these are not puppies acquired from any other means” besides having been rescued.
“We love when people adopt our adult animals, but for the people who think they have to shop for a juvenile, that’s not the case,” she said. “And that’s probably the loudest message that Puppy Bowl sends.”
Participating also tends to help the shelters — particularly if their dogs are featured on the Starting Lineup, which results in an on-air shoutout for the pups and their shelters. But, for at least some of the rescues, Puppy Bowl usually brings a pop of attention and website traffic, as well as more folks calling to ask about the adoption or fostering processes. And, ultimately, that benefits dogs way beyond those playing in the event.
“We’ve already had some people reach out to us, and I’m sure we’ll have more after it airs,” said Alison Flanagan, executive director of Harley’s Haven (and, incidentally, Moby’s adoptive mom, who took him in permanently after intending to only foster him briefly — what is known as a “foster fail”). One woman even signed up to foster with them after seeing a Puppy Bowl ad.
Likewise, Torelli and Calgiano said that Brandywine Valley SPCA and Providence also see spikes in interest in adoption and fostering around the time of Puppy Bowl. And that, Calgiano said, is particularly welcome in February, when adoptions tend to slow down (typically, adoptions are at their height in December, around the winter holidays).
Still, though, it’s tough to track and quantify the direct impact that Puppy Bowl has on shelters like Providence Animal Center, Calgiano said. But, ultimately, she hopes that the event — along with other efforts like NBC’s annual Clear the Shelters promotion — plants a seed to grow interest in adoption and fostering.
Of course, Puppy Bowl’s benefit doesn’t come without work on the shelters’ parts. Formerly filmed in New York City, the event has moved to Glens Falls, N.Y., due to the pandemic — about a four-hour drive from Philly, double the distance of NYC.
Besides the increased travel time, there’s also the COVID-19 stipulation of having only one human allowed per pet, plus finding and booking a pet-friendly hotel, corralling the pups to participate in filming days, and dealing with the pure chaos of spending hours around 100-plus other young dogs.
But, given the impact it can have for these shelters and rescues — and adoption and fostering overall — it’s all worth it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest experience,” Calgiano said. “But at the end of the day, it’s definitely worthwhile for the result of people thinking adoption first vs. anything else.”