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Meet the Tampa Bay dogs starring in the Puppy Bowl

Check out the local players competing with teams Ruff and Fluff.
Left from right: Puppies Billie, Maisie and Jenna, who appeared in the 2022 Puppy Bowl.
Left from right: Puppies Billie, Maisie and Jenna, who appeared in the 2022 Puppy Bowl. [ Courtesy of Aja Nikiya ]
Published Feb. 10|Updated Feb. 12

While Tom Brady won’t be competing in the Super Bowl this Sunday, there are still some local athletes you’ll want to watch on the field. But these players are small, wiggly and covered in fur.

In October, 118 rescue puppies from 67 shelters nationwide headed to Glenn Falls, N.Y., to pre-record Puppy Bowl XVIIIl. Among them were three puppies from Compassion Kind Foundation, a St. Petersburg rescue that has saved over 7,000 animals.

Compassion Kind was able to bring three dogs. There was Billie, a boxer mix with tri-colored fur and bright blue eyes. She came to the shelter after her mother was hit by a car in Puerto Rico and had to have an emergency C-section.

Jenna, a rat terrier with potentially some hound in her, also was found on the streets of Puerto Rico.

And there is Maisie, a terrier mix with champagne-colored fur. She was found in a Louisiana trailer park and rescued after Hurricane Ida.

All puppies that participated are rescue dogs, between 12 and 16 weeks old at the time of filming. Because the rescue was flying the puppies up to New York, the rescue wanted to make sure the dogs were under 20 pounds and could fit in airline-approved carry-on bags.

Compassion Kind founder Aja Nikiya isn’t sure how the Puppy Bowl picked her shelter. Last year, they were lucky to have been selected for a small segment that highlighted animals up for adoption. When she found out this year that the Puppy Bowl wanted them to bring animals to compete, she and Compassion Kind vice president Kim Mniece were thrilled.

“Most of the puppy bowl shelters and rescues are some of the big names and organizations,” Nikiya said. “For us, having this opportunity to be one of the chosen rescues in the entire country is humbling and very exciting.”

Filming started around 8 a.m. and wrapped up around 5 p.m. First, veterinarians gave routine checkups before the puppies joined the other dogs. The holding area separated each rescue’s dogs into their own playpens. A large room was set up to contain a number of set pieces, including the field where the dogs would roam and a spot for photo shoots and interviews.

Billie and Maisie sported orange bandanas to represent Team Ruff. Jenna donned a tutu as a cheerleader for Team Fluff.

All of the commotion was a bit overwhelming at first.

“It’s more difficult for animals that have been through trauma and might be triggered by loud noises and dark spaces,” Nikiya said. “It was good that we had a relationship with them because they were definitely nervous at first.”

Nikiya was shocked at the amount of planning that went into it — from getting the bedding in line for the traveling puppies to booking pet-friendly hotels.

“You’re watching it on TV, and you see these dogs on the field and you’re just wondering how this production all comes together. And the amount of planning that’s involved in something like this when you’re dealing with, you know, live sentient beings,” Nikiya said. “It takes a lot of patience.”

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Billie’s mom was visiting New York at the time of filming, and staying in a nearby hotel. Maisie’s new family was also in New York. They met her during a meet and greet in Florida before moving to Buffalo right around the time of the Puppy Bowl, and after the taping she went home with them.

“They had quite the New York adventure while we were there,” Nikiya said.

Since filming, Jenna has also been adopted.

Want to meet the pups? Jenna and Billie will be signing autographs at Dog Bar, 2300 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

“We’re going to have them come in like celebrity MVP players,” Nikiya said.

How to watch

Puppy Bowl XVIIIl airs at 2 p.m. Sunday on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.

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