Puppy Bowl 2021: Meet the Rufferee and Players


What’s better than the upcoming Super Bowl? The Puppy Bowl, of course! Maybe not for everyone but most can agree that watching puppies play as a prelude to the big game makes Super Bowl Sunday even better. Puppy Bowl XVII this February 7 will prove to be off the doggone charts.

Last year may have gone to the dogs, so a little puppy love is warranted to start off 2021 with shelter puppies from Team Ruff (orange) and Team Fluff (blue) vying for the win in the sweetest game. Just ask the man who probably has the best job ever. That man is Dan Schachner who is in his 10th year as Puppy Bowl referee, or “rufferee”.

Referee Dan Schachner holds one of the puppies on the field. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet/Elias Weiss Friedman

Who’s Onboard

Animal Planet already knew Schachner as a host of other programs before coming onboard. That, coupled with his love of animals and his background in sports television, made him a perfect fit to be referee and spokesperson for the animals and the show itself. “It’s a unique, seemingly funny comical position, which has actually turned into a pretty serious mission-driven position,” Schachner said. “You wind up being the voice for these puppies and our mission is to get them adopted.”

“We try to get out their stories, their backstories, where they come from, what their needs might be, and why they might be a good fit for somebody’s home,” Schachner said, adding the importance of looking beyond the purebreds and seeing the adorable mixed breeds available. With millions of people tuning in to watch the Puppy Bowl, it has truly become bigger over the years. “We know we’ve made a difference in the animal rescue community.”

Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl has grown over the years and is watched by millions. Courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Typically, Puppy Bowl features nearly 100 dogs up for adoption, but this year there are 70 puppy players from 22 shelters. It will be hosted by Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog while Kristen Bell, Valerie Bertinelli, and Duff Goldman will help highlight different puppies. Senior dog stories will be spotlighted throughout.

While the show tapes in October, many puppies are adopted by airtime, which is the ultimate end goal of the show. This year for the first time an “Adoptable Pup” segment will include 11 puppies and three kittens who can be adopted on game day. Any remaining puppies are usually adopted right after.

Puppy Bowl History

Puppy Bowl has come a long way and was initially an afterthought. While no one really wanted to compete with the Super Bowl, Animal Planet thought of putting its own spin on the day. They didn’t expect many viewers and trained a camera on a small group of puppies to see what would happen. “The very first Puppy Bowl looks ancient,” Schachner said. It features a very small green turf and dogs just hanging around with some chew toys shaped like footballs. There was little to no sponsorship.

The next year they added in the kitten half-time show and eventually cheerleaders. “It kind of extends the day and something the entire family can get behind,” Schachner said. “It’s grown every single year in millions and millions of people tuning in.”

Players romp on the field during Puppy Bowl XVII. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet/Elias Weiss Friedman

Puppy Bowl tries to showcase different rescues throughout the country, with some from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and South America. With the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, dogs mainly came from within driving distance to where the show was filmed in upstate New York. Typically filmed on a New York City soundstage, this year they shot in a hockey arena, giving them more room for distancing purposes.

Animal Planet previously had to reach out to shelters but now it’s the other way around. They also have relationships with shelters across the country. Dogs must be between 3 and 6 months old, untrained, and up for adoption. The Puppy Bowl team then tries to choose dogs from various breeds, mixes, sizes, and backstories.

What’s nice is that shelters featured on the Puppy Bowl report a large increase in their adoption inquiries. Plus, stating that a dog was an MVP player on Puppy Bowl doesn’t hurt.

Oops They Did It Again

Accidents happen on the field but the show must go on. “If we stopped the show to showcase every pee or poo that happens in the field, we’d never get the Puppy Bowl done,” Schachner said. Other accidents include dogs sleeping, snoring, drooling, drinking from the water bowl, and jumping into the water bowl. A dog may chew up a toy until it’s in 15 pieces or even eat up the end zone.

Is there a penalty for chewing a toy on the field? Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet/Elias Weiss Friedman

Schachner’s biggest challenge on the field is not stepping on the puppies. “When you’re a nearly 6-foot tall human in a small space in a sea of tiny little dogs running around, you can’t step on tails,” he said. ‘It’s a big no-no, and I haven’t done it yet. It’s also important not to step on the water bowl or something worse.”

Meet Some of the Puppy Players

Archer, Ariel, and Athena: 14-week-old Siberian Husky/American Staffordshire Terrier sibling puppies from The Sato Project, Brooklyn, New York. The organization rescued their pregnant mom Julietta from a garbage dump in Puerto Rico in July 2020. Julietta gave birth on July 19 to five live puppies. They flew to New York on October 11, 2020, and met their families.

From left, siblings Archer, Ariel, and Athena were rescued from Puerto Rico by The Sato Project. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Bananaberry: 17-week-old Australian Cattle Dog/Golden Retriever/Siberian Husky from Operation Paws for Homes (OPH), N. Chesterfield, Virginia. She arrived at OPH from a Mississippi rescue partner along with six siblings and was adopted by a family in Pennsylvania. She loves a good truck ride and going to work with her human dad.

Bananaberry is all smiles since she’s been adopted. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Jett: 32-week-old Labrador Retriever/German Pointer from Pets with Disabilities in Prince Frederick, Maryland. The runt of his litter, Jett was born without front legs. Supersmart, Jett has truly come alive while at the organization and can walk on his hind legs as well as navigate in his new wheelchair. Joyce Darrell and Michael Dickerson, owners of Pets with Disabilities, decided to adopt Jett as their own.

Jett’s disability has proved to be his superpower enabling him to keep up with the other puppies. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Rumor: 20-week-old American Staffordshire Terrier/Australian Cattle Dog from Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, Westbrook, Maine. Born deaf, Rumor is smart and picked up hand signals from her adoptive mom. She originally came from a rescue group in Oklahoma that pulls dogs from high-kill shelters.

Rumor has it that Rumor the dog is doing well in her new home along with her sibling. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Marshall: 15-week-old Boston Terrier from Green Dogs Unleashed, Troy, Virginia. His family surrendered him after finding out he was deaf. They loved him but wanted to ensure he would receive the care and training they could not provide.

Marshall hasn’t let being deaf get in the way of him living an amazing life. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Theodore: 13-week-old Great Pyrenees/McNab from Green Dogs Unleashed, Troy, Virginia. Also born deaf, he was surrendered by a family who wanted him to have the proper care they couldn’t provide. With high intelligence and sharp instincts, he did great in training and was adopted soon after Puppy Bowl filmed.

Not only is Theodore a looker, he’s got sharp instincts too! Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet

Puppy Endings

For Schachner, the best part of the Puppy Bowl is the happy ending. “Every year, every single one of the dogs that we showcase gets adopted, if not by the very end of the Puppy Bowl airing then a day or two later,” he said. “By the time the Puppy Bowl is two days old, every single dog has been adopted.”

Schachner comforts a puppy on the field. Photo courtesy of discovery+/Animal Planet/Elias Weiss Friedman

Watch Puppy Bowl XVII on February 7 starting at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT streaming on discovery+ or airing on Animal Planet.

You can vote and give back in the Pupularity Playoff Sweepstakes by clicking here and find out about DOGTV!

For more information on Puppy Bowl XVII click here and on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and TikTok.

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