Back in pre-K, I told my teacher I wanted to grow up to be a puppy. And while that makes absolutely no sense at all, since then, I've had my eye on one job. If you've ever watched Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl, which airs right before the Super Bowl, you may have noticed there's always one guy in charge of making all the calls. Dan Schachner is the Puppy Bowl referee, and he's basically living my 4-year-old dream.
If you've never had the chance to watch Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl, it's a ridiculously cute competition that precedes one of the biggest televised events of the year, the Super Bowl. Two teams of puppers, Team Ruff and Team Fluff, fight (er, tumble around with chew toys) in order to win the Lombarky Trophy. But while the puppies "compete," one man is in charge of keeping the play fun, the game fair, and the treats coming: Dan Schachner, who has run the game as the official referee since Puppy Bowl VIII in 2012. I had the opportunity to speak with him in person, and for real, I couldn't help but squee over it all.
Dan Schachner grew up with dogs (dachshunds specifically), but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that he would end up hosting Animal Planet's highly-renowned Puppy Bowl. He had been working as a TV host (and had even hosted a few Animal Planet shows) but eventually, the original Puppy Bowl host ended up leaving after only seven years to join another TV network. Schachner jumped at the opening. Securing the job, however, definitely was not an easy task.
According to Schachner, he started out just watching the Puppy Bowl, like everyone else in this puppy-lovin' world, so the mere prospect of being considered for the role was a total dream to him. He had to go through rigorous interviews and submit an audition tape to be considered.
"[When the opportunity opened], I did an audition tape plus an interview, and, I don’t know, they had some concerns... that I looked too young at first, or that I wasn’t experienced and all that." He said. But persistence and a knack for playing with puppies paid off. "Eventually, I won them over, and eight years later, its still my job."
The job itself actually goes far beyond officiating the world's cutest game. Preparation starts early on in the summer, around May or June, and it's Schachner's job to coordinate the canine lineup. About six months prior to the main event, he gets to file through thousands of photos sent from several rescues nationwide to find his best contestants. The photos are actually of the potential puppers' parents (since the litters aren't born yet), but they figure the pups will be born late in the summer, which means they will be able to participate in October when filming commences. The dogs must all meet certain requirements, including having all their vaccinations and meeting height and weight limits for the play-stadium.
The change in the way the show is set up is a marker of its success. Back in the day, Animal Planet would contact shelters to find their contestants, but now, major charities and rescues from across the nation reach out to them promoting their own dogs. The shelters continue sending updates until the final decisions for the official lineup are made in September. Then, until the Puppy Bowl airs, Schachner spends his time promoting it, handling press, and marketing.
It's extremely rewarding, and not just for time spent with puppies. Possibly the best thing about Puppy Bowl is that each and every one of these rescue puppies gets adopted in the end.
Now it’s not about, 'Will they adopted?' It's about, 'How many more can we get adopted beyond the initial 96?'
Schachner says that even though the actual Puppy Bowl doggos get adopted before the show even airs, the effects are further-reaching, as the cute overload drives more people to shelters and ultimately gets more dogs adopted. "Every year, the shelters report back to us that they have a huge uptake in people looking to adopt," he says. According to Vox, on the off-chance a puppy is still up for adoption, they're usually snagged within five minutes of airing. But, they end up connecting you to other litters from the same shelter. There's a puppy for everyone.
I was thrilled to hear the Puppy Bowl has a 100 percent adoption rate every single year, without fail. While Schachner says achieving that was originally a challenge, the goals of the event have broadened with its success. "It's about, 'How many more can we get adopted beyond the initial 96 [puppies in the lineup]?'" Schachner says.
We never thought a dog could actually kick a goal, but it happened.
Aside from the organizational aspect, though, hanging out with puppies all day long is (obviously) incredibly valuable in itself. And, most importantly, it makes for some absolutely hilarious stories.
"Some memorable moments from my Puppy Bowl career include double touchdowns and dogs ripping my sock off." Schachner says. "Oh, and the first puppy field goal happened in Puppy Bowl X. We never thought a dog could actually kick a goal, but it happened."
Since its humble beginnings, the Puppy Bowl itself has grown tremendously. In recent years, it's introduced a kitten halftime show in 2006, baby chick cheerleaders in 2016, and even the Dog Bowl in 2018, which highlights adult dogs. According to Schachner, dogs need more help getting adopted than puppies do. Sometimes, they stay in shelters for twice as long as puppies, and they're often the first to be euthanized.
Schachner's role in organizing the Dog Bowl involved reaching out to shelters, and most importantly, pitching it to Animal Planet. "It was incredible that we’re now able to highlight adult dogs — that also in some cases — need more of our help than puppies." Schachner says. "The fact that the network green-lit a Dog Bowl was a blast. Then, to hear the Dog Bowl was coming back — meaning the network wanted to keep airing it — was a double win."
Schachner seems to have pretty big aspirations for the Puppy Bowl franchise. Next, he's looking at the golden oldies, with aspirations to create a senior Dog Bowl. Which — honestly — I am so down for.
"I really cherish the fact that we have a Puppy Bowl, and now a Dog Bowl, and next, I really want to start a Senior Bowl, and just go for the oldies," says Schacher. Senior dogs are constantly up for adoption, and giving them the chance to spend the rest of their lives in a loving home is vital. While he knows health issues can be a sticking point, he's confident that people will know the value of these elderly lovebugs. "Who knows, maybe they’re in wheelchairs," he says. "I’m not trying to exploit any dog weaknesses for TV value, it's just letting people know that dogs that have disabilities or special needs, or they are just up there in age, and they can still make great additions to any household."
His love for animals doesn't end when the cameras shut down, either. Having this job for almost a decade has inspired Schachner to foster dogs on a regular basis, giving them somewhere to stay prior to finding their fur-ever home.
"I think when I started this job, I thought, 'Well, it's only a matter of time before I finally adopt.' And then, the more I got into it, I realized, 'I don’t wanna just adopt one, I just want to foster,'" he says. "So, here we are, eight years later, still fostering. And — I don’t know — they say Santa Claus is not anyone’s 'dad,' he’s like the 'dad' to all the kids in the world. And I know its corny, but that’s kind of what I’m going for." Clearly Schachner brings joy to a lot of pups, not to mention people, in this world. It's not a bad goal to aim for.