Column: Super Bowl Sunday Puppy Bowl spotlights six S.D. pups

S.D. Puppy Bowl players: Firework with Jessica Gercke, Spangles with Jackie Kelleher, Marcus with Courtney Williams.
S.D. Puppy Bowl players, l to r: Firework with Jessica Gercke, Spangles with Jackie Kelleher, Marcus with Courtney Williams.
(Courtesy of the Helen Woodward Animal Center)

An orphaned terrier named Flo was a personality-plus player in the national 2019 Puppy Bowl. A chocolate poodle-mix named Bobbie was a Most Valuable Puppy (MVP) finalist in the 2020 Puppy Bowl.

In 2021, the New York-based canine football competition focused on East Coast players due to the pandemic, but a tiny San Diego cattle-dog named Bandit was featured in a special “Adoptable Pup” segment.

On Feb. 13, for the first time, three San Diego puppies from the Helen Woodward Animal Center are on the puppy playing field in New York for the Puppy Bowl XVIII, which airs on the Animal Planet before the Super Bowl.

Three other San Diego puppies — Burrito, Beau and Buttons — will take part in training sessions with Puppy Bowl celebrity co-hosts and coaches Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg.

Buttons, a Puppy Bowl trainee from Helen Woodward Animal Center, is held by Martha Stewart, beside bowl co-host Snoop Dogg.
(Courtesy photo)

In a new twist, the Rancho Santa Fe shelter has teamed up with McGregor’s Grill, at 10475 San Diego Mission Rd., to host a Puppy Bowl XVIII watch party between 10 a.m. and noon on Feb. 13. It will feature dog-themed drinks: the Chihuahua, Bulldog, Irish setter (with Irish whiskey, of course) and a Poodle Punch. There’s also a Bow Wow Breakfast Bowl and, for canine visitors, an unseasoned burger. A portion of the tailgate sales will go to the Helen Woodward shelter.

The 2022 puppy players — Spangles, Firework and Marcus — may even make a live appearance at the pre-game TAILgate party here.

Spangles and Fireworkare Chihuahua/spaniel siblings who were born on July 4th and transferred here from a Texas shelter. Marcus, who displayed his mischievous spirit on the field, also is a Chihuahua blend. The annual contest between Team Ruff and Team Fluff was created to highlight adoptable puppies.

All three San Diego players have since found homes, says Helen Woodward spokesperson Jessica Gercke. However, three other puppies — Burrito, Beau and Buttons — who appear in special coaching segments, still were available for adoption as of early this week.

A special segment of the Feb. 13 Puppy Bowl broadcast was filmed on home turf — Campo, to be exact.

In a “Pup Close and Personal” side story, Siberian husky/Chihuahua-mix sisters, Bimini and Tayce, are filmed visiting the Farm Animal Refuge in southeastern San Diego County.

The sanctuary for ag animals was opened in 2016 by two friends, Jordan Russo and Matt Lieurance, on a 10-acre ranch. The animal-lover operators point to the myriad shelters established for cats, dogs and other cuddly household pets. But what about neglected or unwanted farm animals — cows, pot-bellied pigs, goats and other critters?

Pups Bimini and Tayce reside in the Orange Twins Rescue center in Los Angeles. It was started in 2020 by pop singer Ariana Grande with her longtime choreographers and artistic advisers, identical twins Scott and Brian Nicholson. The twins escorted the puppies to Campo for their TV adventure.

Farm Animal Refuge formed a bond with Orange Twins Rescue last year when the local refuge temporarily fostered and helped find homes for some of the nearly 400 pet pigs rescued from a Bakersfield animal hoarder unable to care for them.

For their Animal Planet national debut, the pups frolicked with piglets and joined them in a watermelon smash. They also had close encounters with goats and a cow named Gracie. The broadcast, which last year reached a reported 2.1 million people and streams on Discovery+, will give the little-known animal rescue sanctuary and its cause welcome publicity.

“The most important thing for our organization is to promote recognition for farm animals,” explains Russo. “This puts us on a platform with animal lovers. People haven’t seen pigs in the same light as puppies. Our main goal here is to provide good homes for some farm animals and to be ambassadors for them.”

She says the Nicholson twins reached out to the refuge to suggest the visit as part of its Puppy Bowl segment.

This year’s event, the 18th Puppy Bowl, includes 118 pooch players from 67 shelters across the country, notes Katherine Wilkins, of Its game analysis will include dog DNA testing to help predict how a player’s breed mix might perform on the field.

Gercke says the San Diego puppy players each had an escort on the plane ride to New York, and they settled in under the passenger seats. “All of us were in love with the puppies by the time we finished,” says Gercke, who was one of the caretakers.

“I felt like a stage mom. Every puppy in there was amazing because every shelter brought their cutest puppy,” she adds. In fact, studio crew members often want to adopt the puppies after the taping.

Martha Stewart seemed to take a special liking to Buttons, who appeared during training tip sessions, notes Gercke. The celebrity homemaker carried and cuddled the tan terrier blend.