Local rescue scores big in Animal Planet Puppy Bowl XVII

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Are you ready for some fluffy cuteness?

Before tuning into America’s big game — Super Bowl LV — on Sunday, Feb. 7, dog lovers across the country will want to catch some four-legged action out on the field during Puppy Bowl XVII, which will air at 2 p.m. on the Animal Planet network.

Two teams will battle for biscuits — Team Ruff and Team Fluff — and one rescue puppy selected to play along will be the first to represent the Utica area in the big adoption extravaganza. This year, 70 puppies will be up for adoption from more than 20 different shelters and rescues.

Puppy Bowl XVII will include some funny slow motion replays, the iconic water bowl cam and the Kitten Half-Time Show.

Jennifer Vohwinkel, owner and operator of House of Paws Rescue at 910 Kellogg Ave. in Utica, said it was one thing to be asked by Puppy Bowl producers to nominate a puppy for the event, and it was a complete surprise to be chosen to take part after submitting 6-month-old Minnie.

Vohwinkel said one day she received an email in her rescue email account asking if she had any puppies to submit to the contest.

“It said they were starting casting and asked if I had puppies I’d like to submit,” she said. “I just sent Minnie because I didn’t know at the time you could select more than one puppy. But Minnie kind of had a rough life. Then a few weeks later I got an email saying, ‘Congratulations, we picked her!’”

Vohwinkel just opened House of Paws Rescue at the beginning of April last year. They have the capacity to handle about 23 dogs at a time, and all come from out-of-state kill shelters. Minnie originally came with her mom and brother from Florida.

Asked how she got involved in animal rescue, “I’ve always been around animals,” Vohwinkel said. “I also helped with a boarding facility in Florida, and I started a little rescue when I had a diner on Varick Street. I started to take in cats, and at the time I had a duplex. There was an empty apartment not being used, and I was using that until we found the animals homes. Then I eventually opened up a facility because the demand got so big.”

Minnie, her mom and brother were strays when they were found, Vohwinkel explained. Usually the rescuer will pull canines from Texas or Tennessee, but Minnie’s family was a unique case.

“They went to a sanctuary where they got the medical care they needed and made sure they were ready for travel,” said Vohwinkel. “Then they got shipped up to us. It was a big trip for them.”

The rescuer said she decided to keep Minnie because she’s susceptible to catching pneumonia.

“Minnie is at my house — I kept her,” Vohwinkel said. “She had a lot of medical issues. We have a specialist in Syracuse who handles her issues. She gets pneumonia and breathing problems and has to be careful in some of the things she does. I just couldn’t put that expense on someone else. She hasn’t had any problems in about three months, and we’re hoping she grows out of it.”

Minnie may have had to travel quite a distance to get to her forever home, but conveniently, her Puppy Bowl adventure was a fairly short trip to Warren County.

“Minnie and I went out to Glens Falls in October for filming. This year they decided to do the event in Glens Falls because the arena was bigger,” Vohwinkel explained.

And not only did Minnie have the opportunity to get out and play for Team Fluff, she also spent time on the sidelines cheering for her teammates.

“She had a blue bandanna, and she also got to wear a tutu — she was a cheerleader too!,” Vohwinkel said.

Because the Puppy Bowl filming is done in October, and the event isn’t aired until February, Vohwinkel said most puppies participating end up getting adopted before they appear on TV. But she said she’s grateful for Minnie’s opportunity to appear on national television, which helps give some exposure to her shelter.

Those interested in adopting a dog can check out some that are available at House of Paws Rescue through Facebook, as well as Petfinder.com. Vohwinkel may also be contacted through her rescue’s Facebook page, or by email at houseofpawsrescue@gmail.com.

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