Eligible retrievers take the field for Puppy Bowl [photos]

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Super Bowl Sunday has developed its own series of rituals: chips and dip, the halftime show, the commercials, and, in the last several years, the Puppy Bowl.

The Animal Planet cable channel puts a pack of rescued puppies on a miniature football field and films them playing with plush footballs. As an unabashed celebration of cute, Puppy Bowl XII provides a click-away alternative should the action slow between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.

All dogs on teams Ruff and Fluff are younger than 4 months, selected from animal rescue operations around the country. Three are from the Philadelphia region.

Marley, a border collie/Labrador mix was taken in by the Salfid rescue operation in Souderton, Pennsylvania. In September, he was being fostered by Lori Ann Grant in Harleysville when the call came from Animal Planet. 

Grant immediately started training Marley for the big game, which was taped in October.

“We would get ropes and pull tug-a-war. He was a natural,” said Grant. “We worked on him. I wanted him to go into the Puppy Bowl not afraid of anything.”

Marley’s training was tested by another local dog, Leah, a Rottweiler rescued by the Morris Animal Refuge in Philadelphia.

“They had to take Leah off the stage, because she was getting so many touchdowns that she wasn’t giving the other dogs a chance,” said Wendy Evans, director of operations at Morris and the adoptive owner of Leah. “She’s one of the candidates for MVP, so we’re hoping everyone will vote for her.”

The third area dog, a schnauzer named Kevin from Delaware, was hardly a match for Marley and Leah.

“He was just so calm among all the other dogs. He was so laid back,” said Marilyn Howe, remembering how she discovered Kevin at a fundraising event for New Life Animal Rescue in Marlton, New Jersey.

“I thought he was an older dog because he was so laid back. Then I found out he was just a little puppy,” said Howe. She has since renamed him Biscuit.

In addition to being adorable, the Puppy Bowl advocates the adoption of rescue dogs over breeder dogs.

“Purebreds are great dogs. They really are,” said Grant, who used to raise golden retrievers. “But there’s nothing like mutt.”

Although Grant had been the foster parent of Marley, as soon as the dog returned from the New York taping, she immediately adopted him. Because absence makes the heart grow fonder.

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