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Puppy Bowl exclusive: Host Dan Schachner talks Team Ruff, Team Fluff and why you need to be in the game

Dan Schachner is our MVP and his work with Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl continues on. Pic credit: Animal Planet/Damian Strohmeyer
Dan Schachner is our MVP and his work with Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl continues on. Pic credit: Animal Planet/Damian Strohmeyer

Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVI is all about tying in the big Super Bowl event weekend with animal awareness.

Puppies and older dogs are given a chance to have their backstories heard so that people can adopt a languishing four-legged friend. It works too, as these lovable and worthy dogs are out there in the shelter system, awaiting a forever home are adopted through the network’s fun televised event.

Monsters & Critics spoke to host Dan Schachner once again at the recent Television Critics’ Association winter press tour where Animal Planet brings a truck full of puppies to let the critics take a break from the panels and play.

Former TCA president, Amber Dowling, even adopted one puppy and brought the little guy back home to Canada.

Finding a friend to become part of your family also doesn’t require big bucks for specialty breeds (often given up because of poor breeding standards).

The Bowl reinforces pet ownership values too, urging all pet owners to spay and neuter pets to prevent unwanted litters and to value animals at any age, not just the adorable pups they find to have a friendly match.

Dan Schachner talks Team Ruff and Team Fluff:

Monsters & Critics:  How many Puppy Bowls have you now done?

Dan Schachner: This is my ninth, so we’re in Puppy Bowl 16, but this is my ninth year. I think that’s 72 in dog years, but I’m not sure.

M&C:  The difference this year is we’re going to also feature more of the older dogs, is that correct?

Dan Schachner: So, every year we try to show as many dogs as possible. This year we have something called Dog Bowl, which is the night before Puppy Bowl, and we feature adult dogs.

So we, of course, air on Super Bowl Sunday, February 2nd, but we are at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 12:00 p.m. Pacific. Dog Bowl airs the night before at 8:00 o’clock, so it’s almost like a pregame pregame kind of situation for the big game.

We can in Dog Bowl feature adult dogs, also special needs dogs. They might be languishing in shelters and have a harder time getting adopted then these cute little pups you see in front of us right now.

M&C: Right. That’s a big issue, senior pets not being adopted. It’s great that you guys are shining a light to that. Who are some of the sponsors that are helping this production soar off the ground?

Dan Schachner: We have a lot of great support from Geico, who has actually given so much support that we’ve renamed our stadium The Geico Puppy Bowl Stadium.

Bissell because, of course, when you have puppies you always need good vacuum cleaners. Let’s see what else. Sheba is the cat sponsor, and I guess it goes on and on from there. Home Depot is a sponsor and Subaru’s a sponsor. That’s just to name a few.

M&C:  I see now, some of the puppies have to be sort of monitored, their behaviors. They do come from the shelters. So, talk about some of the challenges that your puppy wranglers have before production?

Dan Schachner: Such an important question.  Even though there are 96 dogs participating in Puppy Bowl this year, we actually have, I would think, over a hundred that show up on game day. They don’t all get featured because sometimes we realize that dogs might not interact well with other dogs, so they kind of have to be “benched.”

In that case, it’s okay we still try to feature them and get them adopted, but the things the puppy wranglers have to do is make sure, and we do this prior to turning on a camera. We get them in a situation like this, and you can’t see it but it’s almost like a holding area where we put dogs in different groups together and we see how they interact in the pen.

Backstage, we call it the locker room, but it’s a little area …We have vets and humane society reps on staff with us and they check them out to make sure that they’re interacting okay, that there’s no social or physical harm whatsoever.

Once they determine that that’s okay, that they’re a good mix, that they can interact then we bring them onto the stage. Once they’re on the stage we don’t, of course, all have 96 on at the same time. We have 10-12 on at any given time, and we start with size.

So, first quarter is small breeds, like a Yorkie or a Chihuahua. Second quarter we go up a little bit more. Third quarter is middle sized, like Lab. By the time you get to the fourth quarter, you have your puppy Great Danes, puppy sheepdogs, larger animals like that.

M&C: [Puppies are now all around us in the interview] For the Television Critics Association press tour you only bring a small sample …

Dan Schachner:  Yes.  We bring … I think right now we’ve got 10 here…one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. We might have 11. Some might get missing. (laughs) This is what happens, people kind of take a dog and they walk down the hall and they want to take their selfies.

The nice thing about dogs is that it brings people immediately closer together. Puppy Bowl has a staff of over a hundred people, so we got a hundred dogs, and we have over a hundred people, from volunteers, to crew members, to directors, to cameramen, that are all coming together to make this really important event happen.

But, yes, for TCA, we have 10 dogs, different Paw Works, which is a rescue organization here in L.A. that works with us pretty closely throughout Puppy Bowl, and they’re all up for adoption.

M&C: Excellent. If people want to adopt, if they feel like they missed the broadcast, what’s the best plan of action for them? 

Dan Schachner: Yes, as soon as we finish airing, so 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 12:00 p.m. Pacific. As soon as we finish our first two-hour air, you’ll be able to see it online on Animal Planet website, no problem.

Or, we will also repeat it throughout the day. So, if you miss the first broadcast, or if you find that the human football game later that night’s a little boring, or you don’t care about either team, you can switch over to us, because we guarantee we’ll give you a lot of excitement and because America votes on who the MVP is for every one of our broadcasts, Most Valuable Pup is what that stands for.

Then the ending essentially changes on every broadcast. So, the first broadcast you might have the terrier win the MVP, but the second broadcast if America votes for the Cocker Spaniel, he’ll win the Most Valuable Pup. So, it always is a little bit different every viewing. So, keeps it interesting.

M&C:  I heard from an unnamed source at the network that the puppies have to be held in lockdown at Television Critics Association because they distract the critics too much and take away from whoever’s on panel.

Dan Schachner: It’s funny. At Animal Planet I always say that I have the happiest job in the world because how can you be mad, or in a bad mood, when you’re surrounded by puppies all day? I think they do have a tendency to distract others so we are kind of sequestered here in a back room.

It’s funny, there’s a big glass door, but everyone’s peering in. It’s almost like, this is what a zoo animal must feel like, as those two are wrestling themselves to the ground.

It’s got to be what it feels like to be in a zoo when people are just gawking at you all day. So yeah, the distraction is there but it’s a good distraction, and we’re getting the word out about animal adoption so that’s what it’s all about.

When is Puppy Bowl on?

The event featuring Team Ruff and Team Fluff returns Sunday, February 2, at 3 PM ET/12 PM PT for a special Sweet Sixteen match between the teams, featuring a historic 96 Puppies from 61 Shelters, and making this year the biggest Puppy Bowl ever.

The tail-gating starts with the Puppy Bowl Pre-Game Show at 2 p.m. ET and 11 a.m. PT, featuring commentary from sports correspondents, including Rodt Weiler, James Hound, and Sheena Inu serving as pre-game show analysts.

This year’s game features more dogs than ever before, bringing both experience and charm to the gridiron. To date, 100 percent of the dogs that have participated in The Dog Bowl have been adopted.  Team Goldies and Team Oldies are the older canines who have their dog day on Sat., February 1, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Animal Planet’s canine competition, Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl returns for a one-hour football competition for adult and senior dogs living in rescues and shelters, hosted by animal advocate Jill Rappaport.

Animal Planet released a press statement underlying the need for this event:

While these loving dogs may have a few years under their collars and they’re frequently overlooked for puppies, Dog Bowl audiences will see the amazing spirit and love these players can bring to any loving family.

Similar to Puppy Bowl, The Dog Bowl works in tandem with shelter and rescue partners (32) to create two amazing team rosters – Team Goldies and Team Oldies – as they matchup for their own furry football competition to score touchdowns under the ALLSTATE nets to win the CHEWY Lombarky trophy.

This year includes incredible ‘Pup Close’ stories featuring Jonathan and Drew Scott, Whitney Cummings and Emmylou Harris who all get in on the Puppy Bowl XVI and Dog Bowl III action.

Doggie backstories

This event will feature five special needs players that are looking forward to finding forever homes.

Other stories include Karlie, an older dog dumped for her age, Jack, a poodle mix small-breed rescued with Whitney Cummings help, Ferris, a three-legged Labrador Retriever mix, two hearing-impaired pups — Kismet, a Great Dane, and Paprika, a Chihuahua mix, Filbert, a blind and hearing-impaired Shetland Sheepdog mix; and Rooster, an American Staffordshire Terrier /Bulldog mix with a cleft palate.

Also, watch for a segment where we head to the beaches of St. Croix with Cruzan Cowgirls, a rescue focused on rehabilitating rescue horses. We’ll also meet Puppy Bowl player Rummy, a Chihuahua mix.

Who are the Animal Planet puppy and dog heroes making this happen?

Animal Planet worked with 61 dedicated animal shelters and rescue organizations representing over 25 states, with Team Ruff and Team Fluff having a roster with over 96 adoptable puppies, making this the biggest Puppy Bowl in history.

More international puppies will take part than ever before with players representing Cartagena, Colombia, St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Toronto.

It takes a village to make this happen. The star wattage is supplied by HGTV stars Jonathan and Drew Scott, comedian-showrunner Whitney Cummings, and iconic musical legend, Emmylou Harris.

Our network pup pals at Animal Planet are stars too! The event is produced by Discovery Studios, where Simon Morris is the executive producer and showrunner, and Cindy Kain is vice president of current production.

Over at Animal Planet, Dawn Sinsel serves as senior executive producer, and Pat Dempsey is supervising producer. And of course, Dan Schachner returns for his ninth year as the Puppy Bowl referee.

The sponsors of this event are heroes too, and we can thank Chewy, who provides the “Lombarky” trophy at GEICO stadium. Milk-Bone, Meow, Bissell, Subaru, Temptations, Arm & Hammer, Home Depot, and Pedigree are also sponsors.

The first half of Sunday’s Puppy Bowl is sponsored by Scoob! from Warner Bros. Pictures. There will be genetic tests from Wisdom Panel (think 23&me for dogs!), all the puppy athletes go beyond fur-deep to find out what they’re made of and discover what skills are part of their DNA makeup as a result of their ancestry, and what advantages they can use on the field.

The digital extras

There will be a GEICO Puppy Bowl Draft, to get an early look and the top picks for Teams Ruff and Fluff.

The digital audiences can point their paws to AnimalPlanet.com/PuppyBowl to view the roster of adorable puppies in the Pedigree sponsored Starting Lineup.

There will be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube original social content including the Puppy Bowl pygmy goat cheerleaders getting “pumped up” before the big game, Kitten Halftime kittens behind the scenes with a Meow wrestling match and a Billiards competition, and a special interview with Instagram sensation @TheDogist.

Animal Planet audiences can also check out a live puppy playtime warm-up on Animal Planet’s YouTube channel.

Plus, you can get puppy and dog training tips from the official Puppy Bowl behind-the-scenes trainer. Additionally, when Animal Planet viewers post a pic of their animal watching the Puppy Bowl on Sunday, they may be featured on Animal Planet’s Instagram story during the game.

Also back is the Pedigree Puppy Bowl Trading Cards, where you can upload a photo of your pet, pick from specialized team frames, and add creative stats, including Favorite TV Show, Naughtiest Habit, and more.

Digital audiences are invited to vote on Twitter, in real-time, for the winner of the Most Valuable Puppy award at twitter.com/animalplanet, and results will be revealed during the broadcast.

For more information about the shelters, rescues, and organizations that participated, Animal Planet audiences can visit here.

Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl III Pairs Sat. Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. ET/PT  and Puppy Bowl airs Sunday, February 2nd at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT on Animal Planet.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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