Puppy Bowl is more than just a TV show for Chester County couple

When Marissa Eldridge goes to her mother’s house this Sunday, she’ll be forced to watch the Super Bowl.

“I hate football,” said Eldridge of Chester Springs, Pa., whose mother is a fan of the game. But this year Eldridge will be able to wrestle some control over the remote: her dog Cairo, a 5-month old pit bull mix, will be a featured puppy in the annual Puppy Bowl.

Now in its 9th year, the Puppy Bowl has become the go-to click-away when action on the gridiron gets slow. The 12-hour pre-recorded marathon on the cable channel Animal Planet features a sixfoot by nine foot, artificial turf field strewn with chew toys. Ten puppies, aged 9 to 15 weeks, compete to run toys into one of the end zones.

That rarely happens. They chew, fight, stare, aimlessly wander, and, nap. An off-camera announcer makes corny puns as a referee keeps as much control as a person can in a roomful of puppies. It’s almost obscenely cute.

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The puppies were selected from adoption centers and rescue facilities around the country. Cairo, the 5-month old pit, was found in an adandoned house in Trenton, N.J., being nursed by an older pit bull which may or may not have been its biological mother. The older dog had injuries likely caused by illegal dogfighting. Cairo was badly malnourished.

Now the fiesty puppy chews a plush Mr. Bill toy (remember him from Saturday Night Live?) and makes short work of rawhide sticks. “He’s the biggest cuddlebug,” said Eldridge. “He was problably taken from his mother too early. He loves to cuddle, loves to be under a blanket and really secure.”

Cairo was taken from the Trenton Bureau of Animal Control by Greene Street Animal Rescue, a 14-acre farm in Spring City, Pa., that has been converted into a no-kill dog shelter. Animal Planet came calling asking for pictures of potential Puppy Bowl participants.

They sent two, Cairo (whose name at the time, pre-adoption, was Mouse) and another pit bull mix named Cash. They were accepted, and became the only two puppies penalized during play.

“Each of them was ejected for different reasons. Normal puppy reasons,” said Valerie Sangmeister, the Greene Street adoption coordinator who brought the dogs to New York City for the taping. “Mouse got ejected for unnecessary humping. It was just funny.”

The action never gets serious on the tiny field, despite a random mix of breeds, some from abusive backgrounds. “You’re not going to find an agressive 15-week old puppy,” said Sangmeister.

Greene Street is a new animal rescue, less than a year old. It has about 35 dogs, many of them puppies. The Puppy Bowl attracted 8.7 million viewers last year, so Sangmesieter, along with founder Donna Mastrelli, hope the exposure will help them find permanent homes for the dogs.

It worked for Pepper, another pit bull mix now named Burger who was in the Puppy Bowl two years ago. David Nestor, of Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood, said Burger’s appearance on national television was a factor in his decision to adopt. He had been looking for a dog for his wife.

“She didn’t want a pit. I wanted a pit, because I thought they were sweet. She wanted something that was going to be expensive — a Bernese mountian dog or something,” said Nestor. “I knew if I didn’t get something by a certain time, she would get a dog herself. I had to surprise her. When I saw that it was also a celebrity, I thought, my wife can’t turn down this. Who doesn’t want to have a famous dog?”

Burger, has black and white markings similar to Pete the Pup (“Our Gang”). The scrapbook Nestor keeps of Burger includes screenshots of her appearance in the Puppy Bowl.

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