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.