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Meet the 11 Special-Needs Dogs Competing in Puppy Bowl 2023

Introducing some of the stars of the 2023 Puppy Bowl and the rescue organizations they’re representing.

by Sean Zucker
January 11, 2023
a small orange and white dog using wheel assistance
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

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We’re five weeks away from the big game: the yearly tradition of two teams featuring some of our best athletes vying for the crown. No, not the Super Bowl, though that event is a good excuse to make some killer nachos. Rather, its cuter counterpart — the Puppy Bowl. For the past 18 years, the Puppy Bowl has been an adorable refuge from the often chaotic and intense nature of Super Bowl Sunday.

Airing before its human counterpart, the game includes exclusively shelter puppies and is intended to raise awareness of the importance of adopting from rescues and the prevalence of pets abandoned in them. Organizations from across the U.S. put their pups in this cuddly competition so you can watch 100-plus dogs tumble over each other while supporting a good cause. This year, there are more dogs than ever competing — 122 pups from 67 different shelters — and 11 of those dogs are rescues with special needs. Below are the dogs and shelters proving that there’s nothing stopping typically “less adoptable” dogs from growing into star athletes, including a tripod Shih Tzu mix, a Bulldog mix with a cleft palate, a deaf Dalmatian, and more special-needs pups who don’t let their disabilities hold them back.

Puppy Bowl XIX airs Sunday, February 12th at 2 p.m. EST on Animal Planet.

Team Ruff

a dog with a football
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Bea / ARF Beacon

Bea is deaf and came to Arf Beacon with her sister. By each other’s sides, they have blossomed into social butterflies.

a small dog using wheels
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Joey / Vintage Pet Rescue

Joey was born without front legs. He likes playing with special needs pooches and, according to his caretakers, makes everyone smile.

a black and white dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Julius / Green Dogs Unleashed

Julius was born with hearing loss. He’s preparing for the big game with his friend Hank, a deaf Dalmatian who previously competed in the Puppy Bowl.

a white dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Kayden / Green Dogs Unleashed

Kayden is partially deaf and famous around Green Dogs Unleashed for his joyful personality.

a brown dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Little Mighty / Indy Humane

Little Mighty lost his leg after it was broken. He was surrendered to Indy Humane by his original owner, who couldn’t afford to care for his injury. Today, he’s living life to the fullest.

a small white and brown dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Mini / Rescue Dogs Rock

Mini lost a leg as a puppy. She’s tiny, but her personality’s huge.

a black, white, and orange dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Mykonos / Bosley’s Place

Mykonos was surrendered by her breeder when he realized she couldn’t nurse because of her cleft palate. She learned to eat and drink at the rescue, and she’s grown into an active athlete.

Team Fluff

a black and white dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Cheeky Tinker / Green Dogs Unleashed

Cheeky Tinker was born with a hearing impairment. He’s a charmer who’s acing his behavioral training.

a black and white dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Clover / Rescue Dogs Rock

Clover has a fused front let, and she narrowly avoided being euthanized by her original owner. Rescue Dogs Rock saved the day, and Clover grew into a playful, happy dog.

a white dog with brown ears
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Marmalade / Double J Dog Ranch

Marmalade has hearing loss and broke part of her jaw after a fall. She’s made a great recovery from her injury, and she’s a confident, loving pup.

a black and white dog
Courtesy of Elias Weiss Friedman and Animal Planet

Stardust / Danbury Animal Welfare Society

Stardust has one eye, is very competitive, and loves to play fetch.

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Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and has behavioral issues rival his own.