Four Fluvanna puppies rescue in Puppy Bowl lineup | Television
Four homegrown athletes can be forgiven some degree of tunnel vision as they take to the field on Super Bowl Sunday. Getting familiar with the mini-stadium entrance tunnel was one of the main goals of their practice for Puppy Bowl XVIII on February 13.
“As soon as they get drafted for the Puppy Bowl, we work with them on the tunnel so they don’t get scared of it,” said Erika Proctor of Green Dogs Unleashed of Troy, who prepares Bunny, Glaze, Pongo and Ridley. for the 18th annual event. Ball-handling skills also matter, as puppies score points by carrying toys into the end zone for touchdowns or throwing them for field goals.
“All puppies should be 12 to 20 weeks old, so they use tiny little soccer balls,” Proctor said with a laugh.
Representing the Fluvanna County Rescue this year are Pongo the Dalmatian, Bunny the American pit bull terrier/American Staffordshire terrier mix, Glaze the chow chow/Alaskan malamute mix, and Ridley the border collie. They are among 118 puppies from 67 shelters and rescue organizations in 33 states who will compete in the playful competition at 2 p.m. Feb. 13 on Discovery+ and Animal Planet. The event, which encourages animal adoptions, includes dog cheerleaders, a raffle featuring Elmo and Tango from “Sesame Street”, a senior dog spotlight and a Kitty halftime show themed beach filled with playful kittens.
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Three of the local pups are continuing a recent tradition of representing dogs with special needs on Team Ruff and Team Fluff. Bunny, Pongo and Ridley are deaf; Ridley also has limited vision.
“One of the reasons we strive to participate each year is to educate the public,” Proctor said. “When we started with Puppy Bowl, they didn’t accept puppies with special needs. When they started to see that these puppies could play and let off steam, they became more aware and became great supporters.”
Contestants with special needs have received a rousing reception from viewers, and heightened awareness over nearly a decade of Puppy Bowl performance has helped kick-start a series of life-saving changes. Just a few years ago, for example, the American Kennel Club’s breed standards for Dalmatians still recommended euthanizing deaf puppies.
“Not only do we have more adopters, but now we have breeders with deaf puppies who would have euthanized them and are looking to us for training,” Proctor said.
After Pongo’s Puppy Bowl appearance, he will continue training as a therapy dog to brighten lives in nursing homes, hospitals, schools and other settings, demonstrating the potential a deaf dog has to lead a fulfilling life.
Pongo is getting a head start on that life in his new home, where he’s adored by his dog siblings and human family — and not above the occasional ear nibbling during puppy kisses.
“He’s really nice,” said Frankie Szynskie, Pongo’s adopter. “He’s the cuddliest dog I’ve ever met.”
Pongo is training hard at home for the big game. As soon as his family gets home from work, “he does laps all around our yard as fast as he can,” Szynskie said.
“He’s deaf, so we trained him to know his hand signals.”
The Dalmatian loads up on his favorite frozen carrots and raspberries — and stays hydrated. “Chewing little ice cubes is his favorite thing,” his owner said.
Szynskie said Pongo shows personality traits that will serve him well in his post-football therapy career.
“He’s just sweet and patient,” she said. “He loves meeting new people. He’s also deaf, so loud noises don’t really bother him.”
As Pongo, Bunny, Glaze and Ridley dream of grilling glory, they’ll have some big paw prints to fill on their way to the Lombardy trophy. Marshall, a high-octane Boston terrier from Green Dogs Unleashed, was last year’s Puppy Bowl MVP; he thrilled a national audience by scoring a rare double touchdown, carrying two toys into the end zone. Pongo’s family would like to see a rehearsal.
“We’re all keeping our fingers crossed – and our paws,” Szynskie said with a laugh.