Whether you're a football fan or not, we can all agree on one thing: puppies are adorable. And there's no place to see more of them than the most paws-itive game on the gridiron: the Puppy Bowl. Now in its 19th year, Team Ruff faces Team Fluff in what's not just a cute contest but a promotion for pet adoption. The tail-wagging good time features rescues from across the country, including western Connecticut. Five dogs from three local rescues are on the roster, one of which is a rookie--Lucky Dog Refuge in Stamford.
"The Puppy Bowl has been so exciting for us. We are just so thrilled. We didn't even imagine as a new rescue that this was something that would be possible for us," said Lucky Dog Refuge CEO and co-founder Kirstin Mende.
Mende started the rescue in 2020 with a focus on medical cases and dogs that are hard to place. They recently passed 700 adoptions.
Among them, Team Fluff star Twinkle--a Huskie, cattle dog, Alaskan malamute, German Shepherd mix. Originally from Mississippi, she's since been adopted by Mende's mom, who co-founded the rescue. Twinkle now lives in Darien with a pack of siblings, which the competition surely helped prepare her for.
"Twinkle was very excited. It was a huge, huge adventure for her," Mende recalled. "She had a tendency to fall asleep during film time because it was a nice warm room, but she would wake up to get on the field and get playing and even in the holding room outside, she just loved meeting all the other dogs."
Also suiting up for Team Fluff is Stardust, a poodle-Australian shepherd mix with one eye from DAWS in Bethel. Stardust is one of eleven special-needs puppy players in the game this year.
"She was very outgoing while she was at the Puppy Bowl," explained DAWS Shelter Director Katie Mothersele.
DAWS also fields a player for Team Ruff. Dakota is a German shepherd-pit bull mix born in West Virginia who now calls Bethel home.
"She was very shy when she went to the Puppy Bowl, but she had a wonderful time and started to come out of her shell," Mothersele told News 12. "It's a fun experience for us, and we think that it's great to advocate for the animals that are in the shelter environment and remind people, you know, adopt, don't shop."
This was DAWS' fifth year in the canine competition, but it's not the only local veteran in the lineup.
ROAR in Ridgefield is also back with two players. Pauly is a playful black-and-tan hound mix from Georgia on Team Ruff. His Team Fluff competitor is Schnitzel, a husky-boxer mix. He's smart, sweet, happy, and high energy, so it's no surprise he had a ball on the field. He's also still at ROAR, the only local Puppy Bowl dog without a forever home.
Who will win the coveted "Vince Lombarky" trophy? Puppy Bowl XIX airs on Animal Planet, Discovery Channel and TBS from 2-5 p.m. with a one-hour pre-game show beforehand. You can also stream it on HBO Max or Discovery+.
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Kirsten Mende, CEO and co-founder of Stamford’s Lucky Dog Refuge, is no stranger to adopting animals. Having rescued a number of dogs herself, Kristen and her mother, Maria Mende, who is the co-founder and president of the organization, have a soft spot for animals. Maria is personally a fan of Husky mixes, and when the opportunity came to adopt Twinkle, a Husky-Australian Cattle Dog-German Shepherd-Alaskan Malamute mix, the family couldn’t pass it up.
Twinkle is a rescue dog that came from a run-down shelter in Mississippi. Twinkle’s older sister was rescued first and required immediate medical attention. Then, fosters went back to rescue the mother, who surprised them by giving birth to a litter of puppies.
According to Mende, all of the puppies contracted Parvo, a contagious virus that claimed the lives of two of them. Twinkle and her sister, Lunette, survived and were taken up to Connecticut once they healed.
“She integrated seamlessly into our family,” Mende said.
Twinkle regained full health and was even chosen to compete this year in Animals Planet’s Puppy Bowl, which will air on Sunday, Feb. 12 before the Super Bowl. The event, which spotlights local shelters and rescuers, will feature 122 puppies this year with nine coming from Connecticut. Twinkle is the only puppy to come from Lucky Dog Refuge.
“We were just beyond thrilled and excited to have a chance to be in the Puppy Bowl, and the fact that we adopted her and that she’s our puppy in the Puppy Bowl makes it even that much more exciting,” Mende said.
Since her adoption, Mende said that Twinkle, who is now named Emma, has been confident yet playful with her fellow dogs at home, even urging the older ones to play with her.
Emma’s sister, Lunette, was also adopted locally in Stamford and her mother and older sister, were adopted by a family in Brookfield. Mende said that she is trying to coordinate some "family reunions" in the future.
To celebrate Emma’s appearance on the Puppy Bowl as a member of Team Fluff, the Mende family is hosting a party at Sign of the Whale in Stamford to watch the Puppy Bowl. Emma will make an appearance at the party.
“To have her be able to come to the watch party with us, as part of our family and as part of the rescue, [made it become] a very special story for us,” Mende said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct location of Lucky Dog Refuge.
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The annual Animal Planet event announced its lineup featuring Connecticut rescue dogs from five shelters.
Meet the players in the big game on Super Bowl Sunday (no, the other game).
Bowl season is officially upon us, and the biggest game of the season (for canine enthusiasts) has been set. Puppy Bowl XIX will air on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 12, at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on Animal Planet, and it will be streamed simultaneously on Discovery+. This year's installment of the game that aims to raise awareness of pet adoption by having rescue puppies chase each other across a mini-gridiron — will boast a record number of furry competitors: 122, who hail from 67 shelters and rescues from all over the country. A pre-show, which airs at 1 p.m., will preview the matchup between Team Ruff and Team Fluff and offer a first look at the Kitty Halftime Show. Rufferee Dan Schachner will oversee his 12th game, with Steve Levy and Taylor Rooks returning to offer play-by-play commentary. And once again, the event will showcase 11 dogs and three cats that can be be adopted during the game. (The competing puppies will have already found homes, given that Puppy Bowl XIX was filmed in the fall.) But you didn't click on this gallery for words — let's get to the pictures and see 22 of the players, with the full lineup available at PuppyBowl.com.
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