Just like in Star Wars, Harry Potter, and many other fantasy fables, we of the morally decrepit human race share a home world with a species far superior in spirit and integrity. I’m talking, of course, about dogs. Dogs are by no small measure the greatest living things on Earth, maintaining their well regarded can-do attitude even in the most trying of times. For certain proof of canine valor, look no further than this weekend’s premiere televised sporting event: the Puppy Bowl. The national broadcast showcases not only the athletic prowess and fortitude of the pooches on display, but the far more important quality of adorability.
I was awarded the high privilege of spending an afternoon behind the scenes of the Puppy Bowl when Animal Planet shot the production in a New York studio back in October. Needless to say, the outing was sufficient in belly rubs and face licks. But the Puppy Bowl exists as far more than a showcase of canine cuteness; it’s also a means of getting the word out about puppy adoption, and a surefire means to landing every dog on the scene a loving home.
“It’s really about the rescue and welfare of pets,” said Patrice Andrews, General Manager of Animal Planet. “This is just one of those fun [ways to] heighten the awareness of adoption.”
If you’re a regular viewer of the Puppy Bowl, you know that the program sticks rigidly to the transmission of this message. Not only is the production urging people out in the audience to take a visit to their local shelters, but it’s also doing a bang-up job of finding homes for the pups it enlists to participate.
“The goal has been, and it has actually happened, that we’ve had a hundred percent adoptions every year,” Andrews said of the dogs who come to play in the Puppy Bowl. “This year [we have dogs] from over 30 states, a handfuls of shelters. We cast the net nation wide, and we cast for a variety of different breeds, a variety of different areas. And we end up with about 80 dogs from all over the country.”
Lucky me: I got a chance to meet a number of these dogs on set, and even to hold a few. Although in my eyes, nothing beats some up-close-and-personal time with a friendly pit bull mix, watching the pack hit the field was a pretty close bet. My vantage point of the soundstage afforded me a bird’s eye view of no shortage of impromptu wrestling matches and tugs of war, and even one dog’s ineffectual (but downright delightful) attempts to burrow into his oversized water dish.
“What is so great about the whole process is to see these dogs fall into a natural state of play with each other,” Andrews said. “No matter how big or small, they all seem to love being around each other—just the rough and tumble of it.” While I only got to stick around for a short while, Andrews had the opportunity to watch a full day of canine antics. “In the first go-round today, we had a little puppy—I think his name was Buttons—who literally just stood by the water bowl and could not figure out what was going on. He was a little bit like a deer in the headlights. And dogs would come over and you’d think maybe they were going to engage, and he just sort of stood there like, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
Andrews continued, “This year, we have a couple of disabled dogs. We have a three-legged dog named Lucky who has great energy, is also out there playing, which is wonderful. We have a deaf Shepherd that’s been with us. Just seeing their interactions and the kind of joy they bring, with or without their faculties, is pretty amazing.”
Things were just as interesting off the field at the Puppy Bowl. “This year, we’ve got a partnership with a group called Embark,” Andrews said. “They are a dog DNA organization. We’ve done swabs with all the dogs. Some dogs, you can tell the more dominant breed, but there’s always a little bit of a mix in there, so it’s giving you also the traits that they’ll have in terms of playfulness or literal size and weight, for people as they’re being adopted.”
All else aside, it’s the fostering of a successful and mutually beneficial adoption process that reigns paramount in priority. “Everybody is vetted when you do the process of adopting,” Andrews said. “I’ve been talking with one of the shelter groups that brought a dog here; it is a lot about wanting to adopt in their backyard. So, they’ll make some exceptions, but the fact is, they want to make sure that the dog [once adopted] is having a good come and having a good experience.”
She continued, “They’ll go back in, see the dog in its new habitat, and make sure the dog is getting along and growing well with the family. So there is a real sense that it’s not just, ‘Oh, great. You want the dog? Take the dog.’ There’s real follow-up and a real sense that the dog needs to fit into its new habitat.”
Though I came to the Puppy Bowl hoping only to spend a pleasant day among my favorite of Earth’s denizens, I walked away pleased to learn that every dog I saw would wind up in a good and happy home. Andrews summed it up quite nicely: “Yes, it’s adorable, but it also has a real cause behind it.”
The Puppy Bowl airs at 3 p.m. ET/12 PT on Animal Planet.
Images: Animal Planet
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Send Michael dog GIFs aplenty on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.