Muffin, Pacific and Eclipse might not be household names now, but the three are poised to represent South Jersey when they make their televised athletic debut this weekend.
The three pups, adopted through South Jersey’s MatchDog Rescue, will be among the players Feb. 7 in the Super Bowl’s furrier counterpart, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl.
“We have been interested in being in the Puppy Bowl for a really long time,” confirmed Nina Marcos, a MatchDog Rescue volunteer who recently moved to Media, Pennsylvania, but remains involved with the organization. “It really started off as a whim, like let’s see if we can do it this year. We waited a long time between each phase, so when we got the email that three of our puppies were accepted, there was definitely a lot of excited screaming.”
The annual Puppy Bowl brings together a range of adoptable puppies for a four-legged twist on one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Teams Ruff and Fluff — comprising 70 pups between them — romp around a puppy-size stadium for their chance at victory, all while bringing attention to the work rescues do and the volunteers who make it all possible.
Marcos was among the volunteers who accompanied the three pups to upstate New York in the fall for Puppy Bowl’s filming. After the six-hour drive, Muffin, Pacific and Eclipse played and posed when they weren’t representing their teams on the field.
“We spent the whole day with our puppies, who were in and out of different filming sets, getting their head shots taken, going for puppy play on the field,” Marcos recalled. “It was a really exciting experience and the dogs were all having a lot of fun. The puppies did great: We’re really happy these three are representing MatchDog and showing the world what we’re all about.”
Having not one but three MatchDog alumni in the annual animal-lovers’ favorite was a sort of silver lining amidst the pandemic. With a filming location in New York, this year’s contestants came exclusively from the Northeast, putting the Marlton-based MatchDog Rescue at a geographic advantage, with some help from another rescue previously featured on Puppy Bowl putting in a good word for the MatchDog puppies.
“Since Puppy Bowl was only taking rescues from our region, they had a lot more spots they needed to fill this year,” Marcos explained. “I think they were looking for a lot more new rescues than they are in any given year. That and the generosity of another rescue throwing in our name helped us out. We were one of the rescues with the most dogs in the Puppy Bowl.”
That kind of representation helps get MatchDog’s name out there. Marcos estimated the organization rescues upward of 100 dogs a month — to say nothing of coordinating regular transportation events that bring dogs by the van full from high-kill shelters in Texas and Mexico to either their new families or a foster one — and the MatchDog team is thrilled with any publicity that helps it ensure many more deserving dogs can get their second chance.
“I think this kind of exposure will be great in getting MatchDogs’ mission out into the world,” she noted. “Hopefully, it will encourage people to check out our website, take a look at all of our dogs, and learn about our adoption process.”
Marcos said that rescuing is a collective effort that each individual organization contributes to, and she is grateful that Puppy Bowl exclusively features puppies up for adoption.
“For rescues and shelters in general, I think the Puppy Bowl is a wonderful way to show that you don’t need to go to a breeder to get the perfect dog,” she said.
Given Puppy Bowl’s filming schedule and MatchDog’s determination to find loving homes for as many of its dogs as possible, Muffin, Pacific and Eclipse had already found their forever families by the time they were recruited for athletic stardom.
Monica Brock, who adopted the husky/Norwich terrier mix Eclipse (now named Luna), already knows that MatchDog matched her with a very good dog, but can’t wait to see the newest addition to her family — one of now three rescues dogs “filling our house with love” — represent Team Ruff this weekend.
“(MatchDog) told me that she was in the running to be on Puppy Bowl and asked if I’d be okay letting her compete if she was selected, because it was a great opportunity for the rescue. I said of course! Besides, why can’t I have a famous dog?” Brock laughed.
Brock feels she and Luna were made for each other. The two have bonded, just as Luna and her puppy brother from another rescue have teamed up to rejuvenate their older sister, a 15-year-old rescue pooch.
“I was picked for Luna, and she was picked for me. It was perfect,” Brock said. “She’s kind of like my emotional support dog: It’s been a rough year for everyone, and having that extra bit of unconditional love is pretty amazing.”
The abundance of love that rescue dogs have to give are why both Marcos and Brock are such ardent advocates for adopting, and why they’ll continue to support rescues like MatchDog.
“It’s just as important for the dogs as it is for me to rescue them,” Brock said. “These are dogs who came into the world and they need a place in it. And they need someone to love them just as much as we need someone to love. I’ve had rescues my whole life because I’m a big believer that mutts are the best dogs.”
“There are so many dogs looking for their forever home who are 100-percent deserving of a loving family and a warm bed, who will be nothing but grateful to you for that opportunity,” Marcos agreed.
The three-hour Puppy Bowl will air Feb. 7 on Discovery+ and Animal Planet starting at 2 p.m.
Visit puppybowl.com for more information about Puppy Bowl and matchdogrescue.org for more information about the South Jersey shelter, including volunteer opportunities, its list of adoptable dogs and ways to donate.