WESTBROOK — As the weekend approaches, people all over New England are counting down the days until Sunday’s big game.

Viewing parties are being planned, mountains of food are being prepared, and fingers are being crossed. All eyes will be glued to the TV for the biggest sporting event of the year – the Puppy Bowl.

This year’s event, which airs annually before a so-called “super” football game, is extra special, seeing as a local dog will be competing. It’s not yet known if Juniper will play as a wide retriever or a line barker, but either way, she’s sure to score affection.

Juniper, a puppy from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, is an American Staffordshire terrier/American bulldog mix. The puppy bowl will air Feb. 4, on her seven month birthday, at 3 p.m on Animal Planet. ARLGP will be hosting a viewing party from 3-5 p.m. at Little Tap House in Portland.

According to Jeana Roth, ARLGP’s director of Community Engagement, Juniper, who will play on Team Ruff, was the perfect choice for this year’s Puppy Bowl.

“She was playful from the get-go,” Roth said. “She has large paws perfect for tackling.”

When Juniper’s mother came to ARLGP last year from a shelter in Georgia, she was very pregnant. On July 4, 2017, she gave birth to 10 puppies at a foster home through ARLGP’s foster program. The mother, and all of the puppies, including Juniper, have been adopted.

Juniper was chosen to participate in the Puppy Bowl, which features puppies from all over the country playing with footballs on a miniature turf field, after Animal Planet heard about ARLGP’s partnership with Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth. Roth said Animal Planet was looking to highlight unique adoption programs.

Through the program, Inn by the Sea keeps one dog at the hotel until a guest adopts it. Over the past two years, 110 dogs have been adopted through the program, Roth said. Juniper didn’t participate in the program, but was chosen for the Puppy Bowl because of her spunk and high energy.

While the Puppy Bowl features cute quarterbarks and rufferees, Roth said she’s glad it also showcases adoption programs.

“It’s a creative and exciting way to talk about adoption and what shelters do, which is why we wanted to participate,” she said.

This is the first time a dog from ARLGP has participated in the Puppy Bowl and Roth said everyone at the shelter is honored.

“We’re really proud of it,” she said. “The way (Animal Planet) highlights animal welfare and adoption is special and exciting.”

Almost 40 puppies will be in the Puppy Bowl’s starting lineup, but only seven dogs, including Juniper, and their programs will be highlighted. Animal Planet filmed at Inn by the Sea late last summer, Roth said. She added that she hopes the spotlight will remind people to think of ARLGP when adopting.

The viewing party on Sunday will be open to the public and all are welcome to attend. All sales of Allagash White beer will be donated to ARLGP.

While the Puppy Bowl may be considered a “tail”-gating event for some, Roth said it’ll definitely be the main event this weekend.

“We might be biased, but this will be the better game on Sunday,” she said. “Look out Tom Brady, Juniper is coming.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Juniper, a 7-moth-old puppy from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, will be participating in the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl on Sunday.

Juniper was born in the care of one of the Animal Refuge League’s foster families after her mother was brought to the shelter.

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