Two Idaho pups will try to tackle and tug their way to the end zone Sunday as part of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVI.
Before the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs face off in the Super Bowl, a pack of adoptable puppies will romp around their own football field, where a toy in the end zone counts as a touchdown. The Puppy Bowl will air at 1 p.m. Mountain time this Sunday on Animal Planet.
It’s the fifth year in a row that dogs from North Idaho’s Double J Dog Ranch will participate in the Puppy Bowl. This year, German shepherd Daphne and Shetland sheepdog mix Filbert are on Team Ruff. A third dog from Double J, a 6-year-old Australian shepherd named Lulu, is part of the Dog Bowl, a competition for adult and senior dogs in shelters or rescues. Dog Bowl III airs on Animal Planet at 9 p.m. Mountain time on Saturday.
Cristene Justus, founder of Double J Dog Ranch, said Animal Planet initially approached her in 2015 to inquire about bringing a pup to the event. They’ve asked her back every year since.
“Every year we fly to New York City,” Justus said in a phone interview. “It’s filmed in October. It’s a long day, but the puppies love it because they get so much attention from people there.”
The puppies are divided into Team Ruff and Team Fluff. When they hit the field, the furry athletes typically spend most of their time wrestling with each other, chewing on toys or sneaking in a quick nap — so scoring is not a priority. Still, some pups manage to make it to an end zone and rack up some points for their team.
Justus said Filbert and adult dog Lulu were stars on the gridiron.
“Filbert just has the X factor,” Justus said. “He’s ridiculously cute, loves to play and gets along with everyone.”
For Daphne, football didn’t come as naturally. The lights, camera and action left her looking for Justus — the pup even hopped off the stage during filming in search of a familiar face. Still, Daphne has had plenty of screen time in promo commercials and on social media, Justus said.
That’s ideal, since the real purpose of the Puppy Bowl is to encourage dog adoptions, particularly for dogs like Filbert, Daphne and Lulu who have special needs.
All of the dogs at Double J Dog Ranch, which is located near Post Falls, have genetic or other medical conditions that require some extra care.
Lulu is deaf and relocated to the rescue from Boise after her owners divorced. Filbert is also deaf. Justus said he was surrendered by a breeder along with his brother, Herschel.
Daphne has a condition called megaesophagus, where the esophagus is enlarged or stretched out and causes issues with eating and drinking. It can be managed with the use of a special “high chair” known as a Bailey chair. She was brought to Justus by a veterinarian in Spokane.
Her owners felt her condition was too much for them to bear,” Justus said.
In recent years, Animal Planet has made a push to include more special needs dogs in the event. Last year, a deaf and blind puppy from Double J named Bumble made history as the Puppy Bowl’s first special needs MVP.
Justus said the event has been great exposure for dogs with special needs.
“We work with a lot of different challenges, whether it be genetic diseases ... (or other conditions),” Justus said. “But we specialize in blind and deaf dogs.”
Many of the dogs in Justus’ care are Australian Shepherds. The breed has a “merle” gene that produces a coveted speckled coat, but breeding two dogs with merle genes can cause issues. The same gene that produces the coat color can sometimes lead to vision and hearing impairments in “double merle” dogs.
“Each puppy in (a double merle) litter has a 25% chance of being blind, deaf or both,” Justus said. “And it can cause other neurological challenges.”
Though many of the double merle dogs Justus takes in are Aussies or Aussie mixes, the same issue can occur in breeds like Great Danes, dachshunds or Shetland sheepdogs.
“It’s very sad, especially because it’s 100% preventable,” Justus said.
Breeders can avoid creating double merle litters by health testing both parents to determine whether they carry the gene.
Still, Justus said the dogs at Double J are “perfect in every way that matters.”
“It’s interesting to me how many people feel sorry for them,” she said. “... They don’t know any different. It’s their normal.”
Since filming the Puppy Bowl, Daphne and Filbert (along with his brother, Herschel) have been adopted by families in Spokane. Lulu, however, is still up for adoption. You can see all of Double J’s adoptable dogs by visiting doublejdogranch.org.
“My hope is people will see these dogs ... and realize what a great quality of life they have,” Justus said.
Photo courtesy: Filbert, left, and Daphne are special needs puppies from Idaho’s Double J Dog Ranch. They’ll compete in Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVI on Sunday, Feb. 2. ANIMAL PLANET