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Originally published Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 5:11 AM

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Animal shelters are real winners of ‘Puppy Bowl’

The annual Animal Planet program is not only a cute-fest on Super Bowl Sunday; it shows viewers how they can adopt the animals on the show.

Associated Press

ON TV

The Puppy Bowl

3-5 p.m. Sunday, and will keep repeating until 3 a.m. on The Animal Planet. The Super Bowl starts at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

Tonight in Prime Time

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LOS ANGELES — There will be a winner and a loser every Super Bowl Sunday. But at the “Puppy Bowl,” it’s always a win for animal shelters.

The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. Many shelters see bumps in visits from viewers who are inspired to adopt a pet.

“It raises awareness for our shelter and others that take part,” said Madeline Bernstein, president and CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles. “It shows dogs in a happy, playful, fun way, which makes people think, ‘Gee, I could play with a dog too.’ You hope it will also stimulate adoptions.”

The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. Dogs score touchdowns on a gridiron carpet when they cross the goal line with a toy. There is a Most Valuable Pup award, a water bowl cam, a new lipstick cam (it’s in the lips of the toys), slow-motion cameras, hedgehog referees, a puppy hot tub and a blimp with a crew of hamsters. Bios on each puppy player flash across the screen during close-ups of the action, letting viewers know how to find each animal for adoption.

Most of the puppies, however, are usually adopted by airtime since the show is filmed months ahead, said executive producer Melinda Toporoff.But Bernstein said the point is to show that animals just like the ones on the show can be found at any shelter at any time.

About 300 puppies and kittens have been featured on “Puppy Bowl” over the last decade, according to Petfinder.com, the online pet adoption database that helps cast the show’s animal stars.

The inaugural “Puppy Bowl,” which was promoted as an alternative to the Super Bowl, had 22 puppies and was watched by nearly 6 million viewers. Nearly 9 million tuned in last year and another 1.4 million watched via video streams, Toporoff said. “Puppy Bowl IX” will feature 84 animals, including 21 kittens from a New York shelter for the halftime show, and 63 puppies from 23 shelters.

Each year, recruiting for the show is a logistical challenge for Kent and her crew of 80-plus. This year’s show was particularly worrisome because taping was scheduled for October 2012 — just after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast.

The New York studio where the game was supposed to be taped lost power, but the taping couldn’t be postponed for too long given how quickly puppies grow. Another studio further uptown that had both power and space was found, and “amazingly, the crew was able to reschedule the shoot for only a week later and all the animals were still able to attend,” Kent said.

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