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February 2, 2013

Puppy Bowl and the growth of online cute

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

And before it did all of that, the Puppy Bowl inspired an entire online ecosystem of cute. It got its start two years before "I Can Has Cheezburger?," the chronicler of LOLcats, became an Internet brand. Since then, cute websites have only multiplied. Cute Overload. Zooborns. Reddit's "Aww" section. Buzzfeed. The Daily Puppy. The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee. Cute Roulette. The Fluffington Post. The Cat Scan. Caturday. Squishfacedogs. Stuff on My Cat. That's just to name a few, and does not include the genuine animal celebrities, like Boo, the furball of a Pomeranian who has plush toys in his own image and a book, or Maru, the box-loving Japanese cat who has starred in hundreds of YouTube videos.

"People caught on and got smart with the cuteness," says Puppy Bowl executive producer Melinda Toporoff, who also produces "Dogs 101" and "Cats 101," two Animal Planet shows that could best be described as "cute porn" for the way cameras linger in slow motion over the most adorable specimens of every breed.

Yes, all this over a bunch of puppies rolling around in a stadium-shaped box.

The two-day Puppy Bowl taping begins not with puppies, but with hedgehogs. They've been cast as cheerleaders this year, a role previously filled by bunnies and piglets. On a November morning in a Manhattan studio, their adoptive parents gather in the green room to share stories about their quirky obsession with the spiny-but-lovable creatures.

"He climbs into bed, he sleeps with me," said Ashley Akenson, 36, of Falls Church, Va., who smuggled Henry, her Egyptian long-eared hedgehog onto Amtrak to get him to the Puppy Bowl taping. "If you pet him when he's not balled up, it's very much like a hairbrush. If he doesn't want to poke you, he won't."

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