How 20 Years of Puppy Bowl Has Changed Pet Adoption: 'People Understand More Because of Puppy Bowl'

Three rescues that have worked with Puppy Bowl for years share how the participation in the event has helped adoptable animals and their work

<p>Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty</p> A photo from the field of Puppy Bowl IX, which aired in 2013

Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty

A photo from the field of Puppy Bowl IX, which aired in 2013

The Puppy Bowl turns 20 in 2024.

Puppy Bowl XX on Feb. 11 marks two decades of adorable dogs taking to the field to play their version of football and raise awareness about pet adoption.

Hundreds of the event's canine competitors have found homes thanks to the exposure they have received through Puppy Bowl, and the event has benefitted countless pets and people who never appeared on the big game, too.

In 2008, Amy Heinz started AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport after finding a dog dumped on an interstate ramp near her new home in the small town of Adel, Iowa.

"I decided to start a rescue because there was nothing in this area for the strays. They just shot them. I'm like, 'That can't happen to where I live,'" she explains.

Related: Meet the Dogs with Special Needs Competing in Puppy Bowl 2024 — the 'Puppiest' Puppy Bowl Ever!

The project started in Heinz's garage as a "tiny little rescue," but then Puppy Bowl came calling, and things started to change.

"In our third year, I got this call, and this guy says, 'Hi, I'm a producer from Animal Planet. We saw one of your puppies on PetFinder, and we'd like to have it in our Puppy Bowl.' And I laughed, and I'm like, 'Ha-ha, who's this?'" Heinz tells PEOPLE, adding, "I had no idea what Puppy Bowl was. I didn't have time to watch TV."

<p>Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty</p> Behind the scenes at Puppt Bowl IX with referee Dan Schachner

Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty

Behind the scenes at Puppt Bowl IX with referee Dan Schachner

Heinz ultimately agreed to participate in the 2013 Puppy Bowl and sent three puppies to represent the rescue. One of the pups, Marta, won the game's MVP award.

"So we got all kinds of media attention because of it, and we went from this little rescue that very few people knew about to just suddenly this huge thing," Heinz shares.

"Adoptions went up. Volunteers started pouring in. Everybody wanted to be a part of it, which was fantastic," she adds.

The attention from Puppy Bowl and Marta's big win helped AHeinz57 move from Heinz's garage to a larger facility.

"It's been a whirlwind ever since we got on the show. We went from my garage and moved to this abandoned vet clinic, and now we have a whole campus. We're quite large. We're very well known in Iowa as one of the largest rescues here," Heinz says.

The shelter director notes that Puppy Bowl's impact has affected individual rescues like hers and pet adoption as a whole.

<p>Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p> Puppies playing during the 2018 Puppy Bowl

Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Puppies playing during the 2018 Puppy Bowl

"I think people understand more because of Puppy Bowl. Now, they know you can find purebred pups in a rescue. People weren't aware of that before," she says.

Tori Canteni, the vice president and adoption coordinator for Pack Leaders Rescue in Connecticut, feels similarly.

"Puppy Bowl came in, and everybody started realizing, 'Oh, there are so many rescue dogs,'" she says.

Pack Leaders Rescue has participated in Puppy Bowl for six years and has seen adoptions go from 100 pets to over 2,000 animals a year.

Related: Puppy Bowl Referee Dan Schachner Adopts His First Dog After 13 Years of Calling Canine Sports (Exclusive)

The Puppy Bowl has also helped the rescue make connections with shelters nationwide. At the event over the years, Canteni has met rescue workers from California, Puerto Rico, and beyond, which has helped her build a more extensive network.

Not only is attending Puppy Bowl beneficial, but it's also fun!

"We keep going back because it's so much fun for the dogs and so much fun for us to go," says Laurie Johnson, the director of Florida Little Dog Rescue since 2009

"It's a really positive experience. I love that Animal Planet is so focused on the dogs having a good day on set. If a puppy is stressed, if a puppy is not feeling great, if they're just overwhelmed, whatever, Animal Planet doesn't push them. It's never about getting the shot; it's always about whether that puppy is comfortable," she adds.

<p>Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for Discovery, Inc.</p> Two puppy players contemplate a toy at the Puppy Bowl in 2020.

Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for Discovery, Inc.

Two puppy players contemplate a toy at the Puppy Bowl in 2020.

Florida Little Dog Rescue has had adoptable pups drafted from their rescue and into Puppy Bowl since 2014. The annual experience continues to be rewarding for Johnson.

"The fact that we were able to spread the word that you can get any kind of dog in rescue is amazing," she says. "So many people have this misconception that if a dog's in rescue, there's something wrong with the dog."

"Almost 99% of the dogs in rescue are here because there was something wrong with their human, not because of anything that they did or could have done differently that would've changed their circumstances," Johnson adds.

She hopes Puppy Bowl continues to inspire animal lovers to seek their next pet from a rescue.

"The biggest thing that I hope people take away from Puppy Bowl is you can get just about any dog you are looking for in rescue. You can find the next great family member for your family in rescue. Again, it might not be tomorrow, it might not be next Tuesday, maybe it'll be next Wednesday. But just be patient and take the time and look. The dog you're looking for is out there," Johnson says.

For those tuning into this year's Puppy Bowl who feel inspired to help but aren't able to adopt, Johnson has another suggestion.

"Rescues are usually limited by two Fs, funds, and fosters. If you can't foster, consider donating to a local rescue because when you donate locally, more of the money goes right to the dogs," she shares.

Puppy Bowl fans can see dogs from Florida Little Dog Rescue, AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport, Pack Leaders Rescue, and over 65 other shelters in the 2024 Puppy Bowl, which promises to be the "puppiest" Puppy Bowl yet.

Puppy Bowl XX will air on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT and will be simulcast across Animal Planet, Discovery, TBS, truTV, Max, and discovery+.  

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