Dan Schechter wants to help you adopt a dog this year. He’s a champion of shelters, fostering, and adopting dogs (and cats). His message is clear and his platform is huge: Schechter is the ref for Animal Planet’s yearly Puppy Bowl.
We caught up with Schechter recently to talk about the Puppy Bowl and all the cuteness you can handle in a single TV program. But our the puppy cuteness ended up being the least of the subjects we spoke about. Sure, Schechter and Animal Planet want to give a little much-needed puppy therapy with their Super Bowl inspired shenanigans, but they also want you to connect with your local shelters to adopt or foster a pet.
In conversation, it’s clear that Schechter really cares deeply about getting puppies and full-grown dogs out of shelters and into a loving and caring home. His enthusiasm for dogs bubbles over as he talks about the joys of fostering shelter dogs and seeing them find adoptive homes. The guy truly loves his job and cares deeply. And that attitude is what makes the Puppy Bowl stand out: Animal Planet could have hired any ol’ actor to play the role, instead, they found someone whose life’s passion was rescuing dogs.
This year’s Puppy Bowl and new Dog Bowl especially resonate as the “games” will exclusively feature dogs from natural disaster zones in Texas, Florida, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. The bowls will highlight the plight of shelters in places that have had to deal with catastrophe and the pets you can help save in the wake of a disaster.
Let’s start off with you a little bit. Can you tell us how you became the Puppy Bowl ref?
At the time that Puppy Bowl came around, I was hosting a sports show on another network here in New York City. It was kind of a combination of sports and animals. So, they thought of me for the job. I went in for an interview or two, and I had to make an audition tape. I guess you could call it the most unique audition tape ever because it was really just me referring random dogs out on the street. And they bought it. Here I am seven years later.
Did you have any referee experience before you started reffing the Puppy Bowl?
No, just sports experience. I played sports all my life. I’ve been a huge sports fan all my life. Football was certainly in my blood. Animals have always been a passion because I grew up with dogs. When this job came together, it was the perfect marriage of two lifelong passions. So, to answer your question, all the experience came from on the job training.
This year the show features chose dogs from national disaster rescues around Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida … Can you walk us through that process?
The way we came around to it was that we’ve always tried to shed a light not just on animal adoption — which we all know is hugely important issue that saves hundreds of thousands of lives every year — but also to shine the spotlight on those dogs that might get otherwise ignored in the process of animal adopting. In shelters or rescue groups, they always report that the cute and adorable puppies are the first to be adopted. But the ones that tend to languish in shelters, and sadly sometimes have to be euthanized, are either the older dogs and the special needs dogs. The dogs that are taken in from areas of natural disasters and relief areas are often older or they’re neglected because something big is going on.
Horrifying natural disasters happened last year. We can all agree that 2017 was a pretty crappy year in terms of that. Between Hurricane Irma, Maria, Harvey, we knew we had to do something to not just shine a light on those dogs, but on those communities that are trying to rebuild. That’s how we found the puppy, Tyler, in Houston.
There was a really horrifying earthquake in Mexico last year. We were lucky enough to connect with a shelter in Mexico and got a puppy called Mango to come and represent that entire country at Puppy Bowl. To represent Puerto Rico, we have dogs from a group called the Shadow Project, which rescues hundreds of dogs from Puerto Rico on a regular basis. Then, of course, we always have dogs from Florida, but this time our Florida dogs became a little bit more important because of Hurricane Irma.
Because of these natural disasters, Animal Planet is also launching the Dog Bowl for the first time to go hand-in-hand with the Puppy Bowl with a wider adoption push.
Yes. It’s gonna air the day before Puppy Bowl as a little preview. You’ll get a peek at the new stadium, which we completely redesigned. Most importantly, there’s gonna be approximately 50 dogs from 16 shelters across the country. They’re all older because, again, the adult dogs often get ignored. It’s very easy for a puppy to get adopted. It’s very hard for any dog that’s over the age of two to be adopted. The older they are, the longer they live in a shelter, the quicker their chances are of, sadly, becoming euthanized.
So, Dog Bowl is our attempt to remind our viewers out there that if you’re looking to adopt a dog, remember sometimes your family can’t handle a puppy. Sometimes a puppy — as great as they are — is not the right choice. I can speak from experience in this. We fostered dogs in our family.
What’s the difference between ‘fostering’ and adoption exactly?
Fostering is a brief period of time between adoption and the rescue portion where you sort of domesticate the dog. With the adult dogs that we foster, we help them get socialized. You get them used to house training and adults and children and living in households. What you’re doing is getting them ready to be adopted into a family forever.
The point is, we get to experience a whole wide range of dogs in my house. Speaking from experience, the adult dogs are the better fit. I have two young kids. Adult dogs are calmer. They are obviously usually a little stouter. They can handle the activity that goes on in the household. And often they are house trained.
For families who are looking to adopt, The Dog Bowl is our attempt to remind them that it need not always be a puppy. You’ll see when you watch the show the day before — on February 3rd — that there’s a huge range of amazing adult dogs out there that can make really special editions to your home.
Absolutely. That’s always the conundrum of adopting dogs, puppies have that showroom shine to them. But they are akin to bringing a baby into the house. And they like to bite because they’re just puppies.
Oh yeah, they bite! People always ask, “should I get a puppy?” Well, yeah, if you have the time. It’s not unlike having a newborn baby. It requires a lot of attention. So if you’re home or you got somebody who can be home, absolutely. For a lot of us that have busy careers, or maybe two careers if both parents are working, plus a kid, sometimes an adult dog is the way to go.
And that’s why The Dog Bowl is really something near and dear to my heart. I’m so glad that we’re finally showcasing this great population of dogs.
Let’s say you’re not ready for full-on adoption. How would someone go about fostering a dog?
I do recommend it for families that are maybe not sure about whether or not they should adopt. Get your toe in the water. Try a foster. See how that goes.
I encourage everybody to connect with a shelter. No matter where you are in the world, there are shelters. There’s something in your community whether you’re in Alaska, or Florida, or New York, or Mexico. There’s somebody in charge of rescuing dogs, so it’s a matter of establishing a relationship with that local rescue group. Sometimes it’s simple as walking in, introducing yourself, and telling them that you’re willing to foster. Sometimes it’s a little more extensive application form. But the idea is, you stay local because you’re helping that dog population in your area.
I work with the Sato Project and with Social Tees here in New York. What they do is pretty regularly call you up and say, “Hey, we’ve got these rescue dogs that were rescued from a kill shelter in LA and they’re coming to New York tomorrow morning. Can you take in a puppy or an adult dog?” And the answer is almost always yes from us. We treat them like our own. And the idea is, you get them into the vet’s to get them their basic shots. You help them get house trained if they need to get house trained. It is work that sometimes will last a month. Sometimes it’ll last two months. Sometimes a little bit longer, but at the end of it, you actually get to see their adopted family come and meet them. It’s very satisfying work.
And every single one of my fosters, I’ve stayed in touch with their adopted families, which is so cool. We stay friends on Instagram. I’m able to see these amazing little dogs that I’ve been able to sort of rehabilitate live a really full life with a family that really loves them. So it’s a very cool thing.
There’s a comforting aspect to the Puppy Bowl. You watch it and you just melt into your chair and relax as it’s happening. But then talking with you, there’s so much more at play here.
It is comforting. All the dog culture, in a way, is an antidote to some of the harsh realities of modern-day life. There’s comfort food and then there are comfort pets. I think dogs, especially puppies, tend to be really comforting soothing images and videos. I mean I don’t know how many dog videos you’ve watched, or cat videos, but I’ve seen way too many in my life because they’re relaxing. And to your point, that’s exactly what we’re trying to provide. But, while we’re relaxing, we have a very subtle message in there — or maybe not so subtle — which is, adopt. Don’t shop.
It’s very easy to go to a breeder, or go even on the internet and just say, “hey, I want an adorable Golden Retriever,” and they can get shipped to your house. You don’t know where they come from. You don’t know the conditions of that breeder.
Plus, there’s a huge pet overpopulation issue in this country. 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized every single year. That alone should tell you that there were 1.5 million dogs and cats that needed homes. So don’t plunk down $3,000 or $4,000 for a dog. Sometimes they’ll waive even the $200 adoption cost and let you adopt a dog for free. You can have an amazing dog in your house.
That’s our message in addition to the cuteness and the relaxing factor.
That’s a staggering number of pets that have to go every year.
We’ve seen the shift start to happen. There’s a nice culture change in this country in the way people see pet adoption.
Just to give you an example, I gave you that quote about 1.5 million dogs and cats euthanized every year. In 2011, it was over two million. So, in the last six years, we’ve been able to reduce the number of animal deaths through euthanization, by approximately half a million dogs and cats. So I do think the shift is happening. We’d obviously like to see the number get under a million, but we’re making progress.
It looks like things are going in the right direction. Can you walk us through the ways you can watch the Puppy Bowl and then adopt the dogs you see on the screen, or on your device? You even have a VR experience now?
Animal Planet VR is a way to just experience the show from the puppy’s point of view. It’ll actually get you down there on the 50-yard line, or by the water bowl cam, or by the goalposts and let you see the action from the puppy’s point of view, which, you know most puppy’s line of view down there is more puppies.
The other thing that we got this year is digital trading cards. You can kind of create your own cards and digitally send them out. It allows us to track our players, especially if somebody’s interested in a particular dog for adoption. They can create a digital card and keep it with them and see if that dog is up for adoption. Most of them do get adopted by the time Puppy Bowl is over, so we do encourage people to move quickly if you’re looking to adopt a particular Puppy Bowl dog.
How many dogs do you end up adopting out each year?
We have a 100% adoption rate. This year, we have 90 dogs participating. I’m sure by the time Puppy Bowl airs, all 90 will have gotten adopted. However, don’t be discouraged! Often these dogs are part of a litter. So if you fall in love with Morris, the Pomeranian, who is one of our key players, remember that he came from a litter. He has brothers and sisters.
If you call up that local shelter, which you can find out about either during the program or online, similar dogs are there. That’s the key thing. It’s about developing that relationship with that shelter. Let them get to know you. Fill out the application because, I guarantee you, within a couple of weeks another dog will come in that’s gonna be a perfect fit. And they will think of you first.
Puppy Bowl XIV airs Super Bowl Sunday at 3 pm EST/12 noon PST February 4th on Animal Planet.
If you’re thinking of getting a dog or a cat, please consider adoption from your local shelter.