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February 2, 2013

Puppy Bowl and the growth of online cute

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

The biggest challenge of the two days of taping? "To watch where I step," he said.

Nearly every surface of the studio is covered in absorbent pet pads on day two, when the 63 puppies arrive, escorted by volunteers from more than 20 shelters and rescue societies from across the country.

Animal adoption is the Puppy Bowl's mission, and all dogs and cats on the show are available for adoption, though all but four will have found happy homes by the time of this story's publication. Some shelters have built relationships with the show and give their dogs football-inspired names. Ana Bustilloz, of the Los Angeles SPCA, brought Blitz, a terrier mix, whom she hoped would follow in the footsteps of Fumble, last year's Puppy Bowl MVP. "We're hoping for magic twice," she said, "but she's shy."

Before every animal goes on camera, he or she is given an examination by Nancy Ashley, the on-site veterinarian. They also sit for a portrait for Animal Planet's website. The presentation of each puppy is met with an "aww" in unison from everyone in the room. "This is Copper!" says a volunteer, carrying a dachshund. "Aww, Copper!" replies the entire room, as if on cue.

Then the dogs are carried down to the stadium set, where they get their turn according to size: Big dogs play with other big dogs, like pit bulls and Great Pyrenees, while the toy breeds, like Japanese Shins and chihuahuas, get their field time together to keep it fair.

When they are let loose with countless stimuli — a dozen toys in all shapes and sizes, new playmates all around and a small brigade of humans with shiny cameras and pockets full of treats, they don't even know where to begin. Copper licks a camera hidden in a toy. Mickey, a shepherd mix, jumps up to chew the wires on a jib camera. Other puppies try to wriggle through the portholes where the camera lenses poke through a plexiglass wall. Suddenly, Agatha scores a touchdown.

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