By Pete Zamplas- The local Puppy Bowl Sunday afternoon was the best yet in athletic prowess, funny mischievous moments and dogged determination, agreed many who howled at the canine antics.
Lucas, a thin-legged young alpha hound, was the star of stars and fastest of all. He zoomed past foes to score about a dozen TDs, often covering the entire 20-yard field. He also was the most rambunctious in fighting other pups. Lucas was suspended a while. But he returned to resume his scoring outburst, and perhaps earn a tryout as a wide receiver with the Carolina Panthers.
Lucas drew the loudest cheers, from hundreds who crowded around the carpeted football mini-field in Kanuga Conference Center’s gym. Kanuga is near the Village of Flat Rock.
In its fourth year, the event with to a much larger indoor space than in Sanctuary Brewing Co. in Hendersonville, and there was much space outside for people to walk their dogs on a warm day.
Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville and Sweet Bear Rescue Farm in Flat Rock were beneficiaries of the fundraising event. Area shelters provide Puppy Bowl animals up for adoption. Last year, 30 puppies and a dozen kittens from Brother Wolf competed. This time, there were no cats.
Nearly 50 puppies of various mixed breeds, age and size competed in four heats, in the two and a half hour event.
Six pups were adopted midway, but the pace picked up. About half — 24 — of puppies were adopted by the end, and many more are bound to find homes.
Typically, most of the furry participants get adopted, according to organizers Lisa McDonald and her husband Joe Dinan. They started Sweet Bear, rescuing animals at their three-acre farmhouse in Flat Rock.
“Knowing most of them will get adopted” is the best part, Lisa told The Tribune with a grin. Joe called the turnout, patron and puppy enthusiasm and weather outside all “perfect.”
In the adoption showcase, furry competitors strut their energy, competitive fire and also cuteness. Some observers said they have older dogs and would consider only a mild-mannered passive pup who did not fight for the ball so much. They fretted about hyper, assertive pups such as Lucas.
Others admired the fury and adventure of Lucas, among others. Some onlookers petted puppies at the fence, though that is discouraged so the pups move about for all to better see.
Brewer, MVP of the first local Puppy Bowl in 2016, was shown on stage. He was three months then, over age three now. Brewer was the most active and athletic pup on his big day. His adopting owners re Jamie Gorsuch and Molly McGowan Gorsuch. Molly kept eyeing Brewer as he frolicked, and the match was sealed. They were among VIP first-row onlookers Sunday.
Refs chose MVPs of each heat, after gauging and considering crowd response. The Sanctuary Brewing co-owners were among referees; there were usually two at a time. Barbara Dunkin officiated most of the way. Lisa was out there much of the time.
Joe got in later, for his first time ever officiating a Puppy Bowl. He had asked Lisa what to do. She simply instructed to “play with puppies.” He happily obliged, and did more than that.
Joe and other refs tossed the various cushiony puppy toys that play the part of footballs, often near a puppy and toward an end zone. Puppies can choose from several toys on the field, including toy footballs. Often, more than one dog ran at once with a toy in its mouth.
The object is for the pup to carry a toy across a goal line, to score a touchdown. Pups were more go-getters this year than predecessors, in going to the balls then running with them. Few ducked out in corners. Some seemed bewildered by the loud crowd noise, and zig-zagging about. The pups refreshed at the water bowl. Eventually, they wore down and the heat was ended.
TDs scored seven points, than a mere point after the score escalated so much. Even still, the final was a whopping 177-170 favor of red ribboned Gruff over blue Tuff.
That was much higher scoring and closer than the Super Bowl, which Dinan’s hometown team New England won 13-3 over the L.A. Rams.
Lucas’ amazing flurry in the third heat opened up a big Gruff lead, but Tuff closed the gap. Other heat MVPs included tan Humphrey and quick Lisa.
Event host Grey the vegan rapper rapped at halftime. He assisted refs by tossing ball toys about, during play. A very small dog bit Grey’s hand and held on for many moments, before Grey shook him off and continued on.
A Two pups each dumped doo doo in a corner, and were promptly ejected.
Once in a while, a pup tugged the toy away for a turnover. More common was tackling of one pup by another. “Unnecessary roughness” periodically occurred. Lucas was not the only instigator.
One pair of pups went at it furiously for a long while without intervention by refs — just as in the infamous no-call pass interference by the Rams that cost the Saints a good chance at making the Super Bowl.
Contact looked just as fierce, and lasted longer in the Puppy Bowl.
For more on the two rescue shelters involved in the event, check kindnessempire.com (333-0742) for Sweet Bear or Brother Wolf at 505-3440 and bwar.org.