Animal Planet’s annual “Puppy Bowl” may not be the biggest sporting event of the year, but it might be the most adorable. The idea is simple: Place bunches of puppies and a couple handfuls of chew toys on a 10-by-19-foot indoor football field and film. The execution, however, is not so easy.

“This is like a full-year job for me now,” Puppy Bowl referee Dan Schachner told The Washington Post. “It feels that way.”

It takes months of planning, two 12-hour days with up to 18 cameras, and several more weeks to edit down the hundreds of hours of footage of the 55 puppies to make a cohesive two-hour “game.” And when it’s over on Feb. 1?

“I start thinking about it again,” Schachner said.

But don’t think he’s down on the job just because it’s a lot of work. Schachner, a veteran TV host who freely admits he’s not a real referee, loves it. “I’m the only human (on camera), so for people who need constant attention and validation, this is great,” he said laughing.

Schachner has had what many animal lovers might consider a dream job for the last four years and his excitement is palpable going into Puppy Bowl XI, despite that it was filmed back in October.

“It’s the most exciting time of the year,” he said, noting this year’s iteration of the program is bigger and better than previous years’ events.

“It used to be every puppy for himself,” Schachner said, noting this year will be a bit different.

Puppy Bowl XI will still crown an individual MVP (in fact, three will be crowned depending on online voting in the show’s back-to-back airings starting at 3 p.m.), but for the first time ever, the 55 participating puppies, who were chosen from the 85 brought to the set by 37 shelters around the country and Puerto Rico, will also be divided into teams — Fluff and Ruff. Oh, and there’ll also be a scoreboard, which Schachner is especially excited about.

“If you think it’s easy to keep score in puppy football, oh man, spend five minutes in my shoes,” he said, issuing a challenge any animal lover would gladly accept.

Like every year, a “touchdown” is allotted when a puppy drags a chew toy into the end zone. There’s no hard rules about how or to which end zone because, you know, puppies, so things can get wild.

“The historic double touchdown,” Schachner said, recalling 2013’s Puppy Bowl IX. “We literally had two dogs drag two chew toys into the end zone at the same time. … This is what happens when you have multiple chew toys on the field at the same time.”

Along with the highlights, of course, are the lowlights. Schachner recalls last year’s first ever “terrorizing the ref” call, courtesy of a rambunctious pup named Ginger.

“You can watch game tape and see it happen, and yeah, I threw the flag down,” he said with no regrets.

Not every penalty gets called, however. If they were, Schachner says, there wouldn’t be time for the game.

“The most common foul … is false start. That happens more than you can imagine,” Schachner said. “There’s no way to get these puppies to line up in any type of formation, so … that is one of those penalties that I have to turn a blind eye to.”

Schachner also doesn’t call every incident of, um, “fouling the field,” so to speak.

“I call it premature watering of the lawn,” Schachner said, noting that for a well-hydrated puppy to get flagged for that, the result would have to be “especially egregious” to the point where it would “stop the play cold.” Or steamingly warm…

Luckily, however, the Puppy Bowl isn’t prone to the same type of scandal that’s overshadowing the Super Bowl this year. Schacher does not predict “DeflateGate” to be a problem for him.

“Very few of our chew toys are inflated,” he said, noting most of Puppy Bowl’s footballs are stuffed with cotton. That said, Schachner is not ruling out that some of the chew toys may indeed end up compromised.

“When Tom Brady grips the ball, he’s doing it with his hand. When our puppies grip the ball, they’re gripping it with their razor sharp teeth,” he said and for that he asks “for a little more understanding, forgiveness and tolerance from the public if we happen to find any deflated balls.”

PUPPY BOWL FACTS:

There are four quarters in the Puppy Bowl, each lasting about 15 minutes. “There’s no timer on the field,” Schachner said. “These puppies don’t respond well to time.”


(Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Puppy Bowl XI will feature five Nigerian dwarf goat cheerleaders. “If you’ve never tried to put a cheerleading outfit on a goat before, I recommend you try it,” Schachner said. “You will feel my pain.” When you’re the Puppy Bowl referee, you do a little bit of everything.


Nigerian dwarf goat cheerleaders, nude. (Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

This year’s halftime show will again feature cats — all 25 of which are also up for adoption. The highlight will be a cat named Katty Furry, an Internet-famous feline who plays Katy Perry covers. “If you haven’t seen a cat perform a Katy Perry song, you will, and you will enjoy it. I can guarantee you it’s memorable,” Schachner said.


Katty Furry (Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Of the 85 puppies who came to shoot Puppy Bowl XI, only three are still up for adoption. The rest of been scooped up. They are Roscoe, from Jersey Girls Animal Rescue in South Plainfield, N.J., and Starlight and Olaf, both from FL Little Dog Rescue in St. Clound, Fla.


Roscoe (Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Starlight (Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Olaf (Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Puppy Bowl XI airs on Animal Planet on Sunday starting at 3 p.m. and will air for 12 hours straight. The first three airings will all offer slightly different endings and MVPs, which will be based on viewers’ online votes. Happy viewing!