Super Bowl Sunday is going to the dogs — make that puppies

In a practice arena, Crocket (left) and his brother, Carlos, show off their skills before appearing in Puppy Bowl XIX.
(Courtesy of Helen Woodward Animal Center)

San Diego shelters send three puppy players to the XIX Puppy Bowl pitting team Ruff against team Fluff on national TV


Feb. 12, a banner day for U.S. sports fans, is only two weeks away.

The football field will be meticulously groomed, cheerleaders will energize the crowd and players will suit up — then the fur will begin to fly.

Yes, it’s the annual Puppy Bowl, the competition that features line barkers, wide retrievers and guard dogs.

Four-legged players from across the nation were recruited for Puppy Bowl XIX, which will be broadcast before the Super Bowl on the Animal Planet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST and simulcast on Discovery Channel, TBS, HBO Max, and discovery+.

Three of the 122 gridiron participants from 67 animal shelters across 34 states have San Diego ties. One terrier mix hails from the San Diego Humane Society — a participating shelter for the first time. Two dachshund-blend littermates are from the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe.

Erin, a terrier mix 2023 Puppy Bowl contestant, is held by Jennifer Kennedy, of Erin's sponsoring S.D. Humane Society.
(Courtesy of the San Diego Humane Society)

It’s the first time two brothers have played together on a Puppy Bowl team, says Helen Woodward spokeswoman Jessica Gercke.

The goal, of course, is to get these four-legged players adopted — if they aren’t already, considering the Puppy Bowl was pretaped in October. It’s designed to spotlight the surplus of orphaned, abandoned, surrendered, stray and unwanted puppies looking for forever homes — along with their feline counterparts, who will star in the half-time kitty show.

The pandemic was brutal for dogs — not because of the coronavirus, but because some U.S. rescue shelters closed and many veterinarians halted their spaying and neutering services.

As a result, canine birth rates spiked, especially in states where spaying and neutering are not mandatory before adoption, Gercke says.

Thompson suspects that the Humane Society’s recent influx of abandoned and stray pets is related to inflation and the rising cost of pet food and health care.

What they are seeing are lots of stray dogs, 60 percent of whom are not being picked up by their owners. Thompson says that is an unusually high percentage.

Erin was only 2 months old when someone found her in the Talmadge area. She'll be on national TV in the Feb. 12 Puppy Bowl.
(Courtesy of the San Diego Humane Society)

The Humane Society has a team of people who scour social media for reports of lost and found animals to try to reunite them with their owners. Sometimes stray dogs lack microchips, or the microchip information is outdated or potential owners simply don’t respond to the Human Society’s voicemails.

At Helen Woodward, a private, nonprofit shelter, a team routinely transfers adoptable animals from overcrowded high-kill shelters elsewhere.

In fact, tail-wagging Puppy Bowl players Carlos and Crocket, were brought to San Diego from such a shelter in Louisiana.

Both have been adopted since the filming: Carlos, who was interviewed by a sports reporter during the Puppy Bowl, was adopted by a Santee family. Crocket now lives in San Marcos.

Carlos was rescued by the Helen Woodward center from a kill shelter in Louisiana. A Santee family adopted him.
(Courtesy of Helen Woodward Animal Center)

In December, the Humane Society had a record of 606 dogs in its care, says spokeswoman Nina Thompson. Kennels were full, foster families were recruited, and the shelter’s classrooms and conference rooms were turned into makeshift pet enclosures.

That’s when the shelter took the unusual step of asking people not to relinquish their dogs but to try to keep them for a while longer or to re-home their pets themselves.

The Humane Society offers a link to a re-homing page ( where owners can post photos and information about their pets to facilitate private adoption. It also offers programs that help pet owners with low-cost veterinary assistance and food.

The space crunch was compounded by an outbreak of distemper requiring dog quarantine space and a kennel remodeling project at the San Diego branch. As of Feb. 1, however, the Humane Society plans to lift the restriction and, once again, accept pets surrendered by their owners.

Its Puppy Bowl player, Erin, was discovered wandering in the Talmadge area in July by a good Samaritan and brought in the next day. The 2-month-old puppy had no collar or microchip.

A couple of days later, the shelter received a casting call notice from the Puppy Bowl. Erin was a great fit because Thompson says she is “easy to handle, likes chasing balls and playing with toys, and loves people and other dogs.”

Erin since has been adopted by a friend of Humane Society graphic artist Jennifer Kennedy and now lives in Milwaukee, Wis.

Kennedy attended Erin’s Puppy Bowl videotaping sessions in Glens Falls, N.Y., last fall. She says the terrier tried her skills on the gridiron but discovered her true calling as a cheerleader — wearing a blue tutu.

“We think it’s a great cause to highlight the importance of adopting and getting the spotlight on shelter animals,” says Thompson, who added volunteer dog walking and kennel cleaning duties to her regular job because of the overcrowded shelter.

Only the Puppy Bowl producers know how much airtime each player will get. A previous Helen Woodward entrant — a chocolate poodle-mix named Bobbie, was named a Most Valuable Puppy finalist in the 2020 Puppy Bowl.

On Feb. 12, Helen Woodward is having its own tailgate and Puppy Bowl XIX watch party at McGregor’s Grill, 10475 San Diego Mission Road, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. It’s doubling as a fundraiser, with 10 percent of sales earmarked for the shelter.

Adoptable puppies will be on hand, Gercke says. Plus, veteran Puppy Bowl players Carlos and Crocket will be there to sign “pawtographs.”