Greetings, sports fans! This week I had the opportunity to sit down with our friend Dan Schachner – someone who you may or may not know by name, but you definitely know his work! Dan has the actual best job ever, as referee of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. He also works with various pet rescue groups throughout the year, promoting adoption and fostering. He was also one of our speakers for our New Normal event, addressing pet separation anxiety post-quarantine. It’s almost game time, so let’s get to the questions!
Let’s start at the beginning – can you tell us about the first pet you ever had?
Well, let’s see. There have been so many, but I’m pretty sure the first was a goldfish as a kid. A goldfish, and then a hamster, and then a dog. From there on it was dogs, but the hamster is really the gateway pet, you know?
Does the Puppy Bowl work with the same rescue groups each year? Or try to highlight new shelters each time?
We try to highlight as many groups as possible. There are some groups that we work with frequently, just because they are so well organized and easy to work with, like the Sato Project. They rescue dogs from Puerto Rico, some are strays and some have been abandoned, just dumped on the beach. But overall we try to feature as many different organizations as we can. This year we’re
Let’s talk about team captains – what do Moby and Dinozzo have that make them stand out amongst their incredibly adorable peers? (after I mispronounced Dinozzo’s name, Dan offered a gentle correction.)
You know, actually it’s pronounced “Dih- note-zo”. In Italian with the double Z, it makes the sound, like “pizza” – at least that’s what his handler told me!
Oooh snazzy, I like it! Ok, noted. Tell us more about Dinozzo and Moby.
Dinozzo is captain for Team Fluff, and he’s a Basset Hound/Shih Tzu mix.. So, picture that! He’s got those floppy basset ears and cute scruffy Shih Tzu fur. He spends a lot of time at the water bowl, but then he’ll take you by surprise and score from out of nowhere. And Moby from team Ruff … Moby’s a Frenchie with lots of sass. So. Much. Sass. He’s the first dog ever to receive a penalty for talking smack. And to his own teammate!
There are several special needs dogs playing this year. It seems like more than previous years. Is that accurate to say, or was I maybe just not paying enough attention before??
No, that actually is accurate. When I read through the questions we’d be going over, I had the same thought, it seems like more this year, but is it really? So I went back to see, and there are more special needs dogs this year.
It’s great to be able to feature these dogs, and show that they are still just as capable as the able-bodied puppies, able to play and have fun and enjoy the game.
How many total puppies are playing this year?
Whoa! That’s more than I realized!
Starting last year, we needed more space for filming, to keep everyone safe with COVID going on. So that actually opened up the opportunity to have more space for more dogs. The playing field is twice the size now.
This year we feature 67 different rescues and shelters, from 33 different states.
And we break the puppies into smaller groups, we have the smallest breeds in the first quarter, your Frenchies and Chihuahuas. Then for the second quarter we bring in slightly bigger breeds like Beagles, Corgis. All the way up through the fourth quarter when we bring out the big dogs, like Great Danes. They’re all still puppies, so they aren’t huge, but there’s still a big difference across the breed groups it’s good to be able to split them up by size, it’s worked well for us.
Coaches Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg are back this year, which is so fun. Do you interact with them at all, or do they film completely separately from you and the puppies?
Ha! That’s a great question. No, they film separately. And that’s really the way it should be, right? I mean, do you really want your ref to be fraternizing with the coaches?
We talked with you last year about your experience working with rescue dogs and you told us about the 4 pups you fostered during quarantine, who all got adopted! How many more dogs have come and gone since then?
There have been two more since then, and they’ve both found homes as well.
How many dogs total would you say you’ve fostered?
I think we’re on 35, 36 now?
Any ‘failed’ fosters, pups you just couldn’t part with?
Oh yea, there have been a few. Luckily some of the dogs we’ve been able to keep in the family. One went to my mother in law, which was great. And there have been some that have gone to aunts and uncles. So it’s nice, to be able to keep them close in that way, and get to see them and play with them on holidays. And the rest, it’s really nice now with social media, I can keep in touch with them that way. I get to see all their pictures and follow along as they get settled with their new family.
Do you have any dogs at home as part of your permanent roster?
No, not right now. I think once my oldest kid gets a little older and goes off to college, then maybe we’ll move out of the city and have a yard, have a little more space.
How old are your kids?
They’re 16 and 13.
How do they do with fostering? Is it hard for them to say goodbye when the dogs get adopted?
That’s a great question. You know, it really hasn’t been difficult. Maybe at the very beginning, with the first few dogs they’d be sad. But we’ve been doing this for ten years now, and getting them involved in the adoption process has been helpful. They see everything involved, they get to go to the meet and greets to meet the potential forever families, so being involved in that way has helped them see the whole picture.
As a foster human – is that the right expression? Do you personally get input into the dogs’ forever families? Or is that determined more by the organization you foster through?
Oh, we are absolutely crucial to the process. I can tell in the first three minutes of a meet and greet if a family is a good fit.
But once somebody gets that far in the adoption process, you kind of already know. They’ve filled out the application, they’re committed. All the dogs we’ve fostered have been adopted out, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a meet and greet and said no, this won’t work, this isn’t a fit.
How is Sonic doing? (Sonic is one of Dan’s most recent foster dogs that has been chronicled on Instagram – you can see Sonic on Dan’s story highlights here.)
Oh he’s doing well. Sonic came to us from the Sato Project, and I got to be a part of welcoming him from his Freedom Flight, which is so cool. It’s always so emotional when the dogs are being unloaded from the plane. He got a special escort on his flight, Henry from Keeping Finn. Finn is a Sato Project alum, and he’s pretty big on Instagram these days.
I saw that he had a meet and greet recently, how’d that go?
It went really well! I’m not sure if I’ve posted this yet, but Sonic has been adopted to his forever family
That’s great! Are you still waiting on his Wisdom Panel results?
We got them in! We haven’t posted yet, but I’ll share the results online soon. I had a lot of people write in with their guesses, and let me say, there will be some surprises!
Are you still hosting Tough Mutt to Crack? (Tough Mutt to Crack is game Dan created and hosted online – taking mystery mutts and getting their Wisdom Panel DNA results. The contestants try to guess the dogs’ breeds, and whoever is the closest wins.)
That’s a great question! Not lately, but I guess that’s what the off season is for, right? It’s a fun project and Wisdom Panel is great to work with. Hopefully I can pick it back up again soon.
Thanks so much to Dan for taking the time to sit and talk with us. We’re looking forward to seeing him and the puppies in action, this Sunday February 13 for Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVIII.