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February 02, 2018 03:16 PM

Puppies have had the spotlight for too long! It’s time for the big dogs to get a shot.

This year, on Feb. 3, Animal Planet is premiering the first-ever Dog Bowl. The pooch-packed event is similar to Puppy Bowl, but instead of baby dogs on the field, the gridiron is full of dogs over the age of 2.

All of the pup players are adoptable and come from rescues across the country, including those that saved dogs from 2017’s natural disasters.

This is a big moment for older canines everywhere, who often have a harder time being adopted, as well as for the Dog Bowl’s host Jill Rappaport, an animal advocate and dog mom to six (including several seniors).

PEOPLE talked to Rappaport about her deep love for older pets and how these animals have brought magic to her life, and can do the same for anyone else.

Courtesy Animal Planet

How did you get started with Dog Bowl and what is your role? 

“I am so thrilled and honored to be the host and consulting producer of the inaugural year of Dog Bowl. This is just beyond thrilling for me as an animal advocate. I am the proud pet parent to six  rescues myself and four are seniors and one middle-aged. I can really relate and understand this issue and it has been my passion.

“Somebody once called me ‘the voice for the voiceless,’ which was the ultimate compliment. Now I am just called ‘the voice for the older voiceless.’ And I thought, isn’t that wonderful because shelter animals all need a strong, powerful voice, but especially the older shelter animals. 

“For the last few years I have been involved in hosting the Puppy Bowl‘s ‘Pup Close and Personal’ segments, which involve the backstory of how these little adorable puppies made their way to gridiron. Some of these stories are pretty harrowing. Every year I would tell their stories, and everybody would be so moved by them. And I kept thinking to myself, knowing how popular the Puppy Bowl is, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could shine a light on older pets?’ We came up with Dog Bowl and here we are.”

Courtesy Animal Planet

What can people tuning into Dog Bowl expect?

“We have such incredible animals all the way up to 15 years old. I think what people are going to love are not only the heartfelt backstories in this show, showing how these animals made their way from shelters all over the country, but seeing how vibrant and energetic and wonderful these animals are. They all play together so beautifully, with so much life left to give. That’s what people need to understand.

“Unfortunately, in the shelter system, many of the animals sitting there are the older pets. And they languish in shelters, sometimes forever. We need to make sure we shine a light on them so people know to open up their hearts and homes to these older pets.”

Courtesy Animal Planet

What misconceptions do you feel some people have about older animals?

“The biggest misconception is to think they are old and don’t have much life left, so you can forget about them. They are often deemed unadoptable because of their age. I can tell you firsthand my older Dachshund Ruby, who is my sidekick in the show, she was at least 6 or 7 and I have had her for almost six years: she is non-stop. Tons of energy! That’s what people need to understand.

“Don’t look at the pet’s age, that isn’t what the pet is all about. If you bring one of  these animals into your home and give them what they need, they thrive. I have heard this time and time again, that people who were skeptical about taking in an older pet because they were worried about losing them in a short time, they say that the dogs are doing better than ever.”  

Courtesy Animal Planet

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Do you have tips for people thinking about adopting an older dog?

“I always tell people it’s not about a home, it’s about the right home. You have to do your due diligence and a reputable shelter will really do their due diligence to make the perfect match. Their goal is to make sure these animals do not end up back in the shelter system. So go in knowing what’s right for you, knowing what your lifestyle and personality are. If you are a sedentary person living in a small apartment, you’re not going to want a big, rambunctious puppy. You can’t believe the life and energy these animals still have.”

 

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