By Pete Zamplas- They earn millions less in dollars than their human Super Bowl 53 counterparts, but dozens of frisky puppies and kittens in the local Puppy Bowl Feb. 3 are bound to earn adulation from onlookers who might adopt them.
The event draws from area counties and has grown so much in its first three years, that this time the venue shifts from Sanctuary Brewing Co. to the Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center’s gym.
The 1,400-acre Episcopal retreat is off of Kanuga Lake Road near Crab Creek Road and Little River Road, outside of Hendersonville and very near the Village of Flat Rock.
“We are thrilled to host Puppy Bowl 2019,” Kanuga Conferences Inc. Pres. Michael Sullivan stated in a release. “It’s a fun event that gives back to our community in such a wonderful way, by benefitting two local organizations and we are excited to be a part of that.”
Main beneficiaries of Puppy Bowl proceeds are Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville and Sweet Bear Rescue Farm in Flat Rock. Area shelters provide the Puppy Bowl animals up for adoption. Last year, 30 puppies and a dozen kittens from Brother Wolf competed.
Admission is now $20 at the door, or $17.12 in advance online. A $75 VIP ticket entitles the generous donor to reserved field-side seating, a commemorative T-shirt and a water bottle.
The event host is Instagram superstar Grey the vegan rapper. “Grey is an incredible host,” co-organizer Lisa McDonald said.
Sanctuary Brewing will as usual serve craft brews at Puppy Bowl, while locally-based plant meat makers No Evil Foods & Garlik Vegan Kitchen again sell food. Indulge Image will run a “Pop-Up Pup Photo Booth” on site.
“The event is going to be the biggest it’s ever been — we’re going to get so many puppies adopted!,” McDonald said. “It’s literally our favorite day of the year.”
The adoption showcase is the main treat, as furry competitors strut their energy, competitive fire and cuteness. Energetic playfulness marked strong auditions, for getting adopted. Some showed assertiveness or instead passive cooperation that a prospective owner prefers.
Hilarious Puppy Bowl moments include when one “tackles” another competitor, or tugs the toy “football” away for a turnover. Most of the animals get adopted, as some people adopt on the spot while many consult spouses and think it over, according to organizers.
Owners Lisa McDonald and Joe Dinan patterned their Puppy Bowl after the annual pre-Super Bowl event televised on the Animal Planet network. They held the first one in early 2016, five months after opening the brewery in an historic 1902 building at 147 First Ave. E. across from Papa John’s Pizza.
The Puppy Bowl is Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, 1-4 p.m. to end over two hours ahead of the football title game. At times, young children sneak onto the makeshift playing field and get swarmed by affectionate puppies.
When the event was in Sanctuary, a much larger artificial field was unveiled last year, stretching across much of the room to the right side away from the taproom’s bar counter. Attendees jammed around the field. Now comes a much bigger venue, in the Kanuga gym.
Mostly dogs and some cats participate. Other animals such as geese have also raced. Do not look for bears, deer or skunks!
End zones are marked for each team — once again named Tuff and Gruff. Many pets wear bandanas either blue or red, to designate their team.
In the Puppy Bowl, only a few pets at a time went onto midfield last year in a shrewd precedent. That way, each got more notice. In earliest Puppy Bowls, bunches of adoptable pets crowded a much smaller surface in a playpen and tended to bump into each other.
Puppies fluctuated between hyper and covering much of the field, distracted and zig-zagging about, detouring for water-bowl breaks, and simply idle and perhaps bewildered.
Many animals hesitated to pick up a cushiony toy — which represents a football —let alone run with it. The object of the furry players is to race across the track, to either end zone. They score seven points for a touchdown, by crossing the goal line while still carrying a toy in their jaws. A large puppy went all the way across the field last year, but dropped the toy before reaching the end zone. Ah, the heartbreak.
Younger puppies especially were set onto midfield, so they only had to go midway to the end zone. They typically get several toys on the field to choose from, including a large but soft football.
The organizing couple is devoted to pets, rescuing animals at their three-acre farmhouse in Flat Rock. They started Sweet Bear. The farm shelter is home to nearly 40 animals — twice as many as a year ago — with a revolving door of foster pets and such ongoing residents as Ollie the pot-bellied pig and George the turkey.
McDonald said as a youth she “cried at ‘Grizzly Adams’” on TV. “I was always bringing home strays. I loved snakes and hamsters, as much as goldfish.”
The craft brewery is pet-friendly, as patrons can bring in their leashed pets. Yoga with Cats on Saturdays has been among special pet events there.
Dinan and McDonald also help people, by staging monthly free haircuts and hot meals and with the ongoing Kindness Wall outside the brewery for care bags for the needy.
Meanwhile, the human Super Bowl has a canine flavor. The clash of star quarterbacks is diverse. Crafty old dog Tom Brady and the New England Patriots face young pup Jared Goff of the L.A. Rams. Goff barely held off 40-year-old passer Drew Brees of New Orleans. Brady, 41, out-dueled K.C.’s young phenom Patrick Mahomes to win 37-31 in overtime of a see-saw contest. Brady passed the Pats to the lead in the last minute, and for the winning drive in OT. In further animal reference, they call five-time Super Bowl champ Brady pro football’s “GOAT” (Greatest Of All Time).
Call 595-9956 for more on the brewery, or check sanctuarybrewco.com. For more on the two rescue shelters involved in the event, check kindnessempire.com (333-0742) for Sweet Bear, or reach Brother Wolf at 505-3440 and bwar.org.