2017-10-12 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Feline Football is much more than sports and entertainment. Hallmark Channel KITTEN BOWL encourages animal rescue throughout America.

Try-outs for KITTEN BOWL V took place last week. The fifth annual furry game will premiere on Hallmark Channel Sun., Feb. 4, 2018 at 12 p.m. ET, and will feature four teams comprised of kittens displaced by the horrific hurricanes, vying for the coveted trophy and loving homes. One special guest will be “Dusty,” a blind kitten without eyes.

Since its inaugural broadcast in 2013, KITTEN BOWL has inspired the adoption of thousands of pets. This year more than 500 adoption “tailgate parties” are planned across the US to coincide with the airing of KITTEN BOWL V. Many of the 2018 teammates are homeless kittens transported by North Shore Animal League America from Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Beth Stern, wife of radio personality Howard Stern, is the cat adoption advocate for North Shore Animal League America. She’s hosted each KITTEN BOWL for Hallmark Channel. Both roles are truly labors of love.

Dusty, a blind kitten, with host Beth Stern, and his sister Cecelia with their foster mom Joy during filming for KITTEN BOWL V Dusty, a blind kitten, with host Beth Stern, and his sister Cecelia with their foster mom Joy during filming for KITTEN BOWL V “Beyond the fast felines and kitten cuteness, my favorite part of KITTEN BOWL is that, at the end of the day, the game is about saving lives. By the time KITTEN BOWL airs, all the tiny players from North Shore have been adopted. Plus people watching at home are often motivated to go to a shelter and adopt a homeless cat,” said Stern. She loves the social media feedback she gets from new adopters, including an Instagram photo of two rescued kittens named “Beth and Howard.”

The Sterns have become cat foster parents extraordinaire. More than 500 cats and kittens from North Shore Animal League America have been in their care over the last four and a half years. Beth’s first foster family was an orphan litter of five. She’s become adept at medicating and bottle or tube feeding kittens. The couple has five resident cats including two blind cats. Their “Bella,” found emaciated, blind and pregnant, will be featured on KITTEN BOWL V.

Last Hope Animal Rescue in Wantagh has been fortunate to take part in each KITTEN BOWL. Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Hallmark Channel, is a Last Hope volunteer and supporter of feral cat Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) for 35 years. Last Hope kittens played on a team- the Last Hope Lions- in KITTEN BOWL I, II and III. The Lions even had bubblegum trading cards. Last year several Last Hope adult cats were matched up as grown-up versions of kittens from the first KITTEN BOWL and inducted into the National Feline Football League Hall of Fame. Hallmark Channel aired the Kitten Summer Games during opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Last Hope adult cats judged gymnastics.

For KITTEN BOWL V several Last Hope cats are scheduled to be featured in rescue segments. A Hallmark Channel camera person will visit Navajo at home to film our “nanny cat.” Navajo (previously T.G. for “Tough Guy”) was a tame tabby abandoned at a Bellerose feral colony. He had to fight for food until he was rescued. Soon after, he was adopted and renamed “Navajo” by a Wantagh family with two young daughters. The former “Tough Guy” takes part in the girls’ tea parties, sits on the board when they play Monopoly and holds onto crayons while they color. He’s so in tune with his “sisters” that he’ll run from wherever he is in the house to check if he thinks his girls are in distress.

Navajo is also quite vocal. He follows his mom around talking. He answers when she asks him to speak to someone. Navajo plays fetch with the girls’ toy Shopkin groceries, and will drop one by his mom. If she doesn’t throw it for him, Navajo utters a special sound he’s invented which means, “I want to play fetch.” His linguistic skills and desire to communicate with his family are amazing.

Each fall hopeful kittens compete for spots on KITTEN BOWL championship team rosters during a media event at a studio stadium in NYC. The “cathletes” practice running, tackles, purrfect passes with miniature footballs and kicks for the extra point. These work-outs are sheer joy to the rookies because kittens are so agile.

Dusty the blind kitten and his sister Cecelia visited the studio last week so they could appear on air with Beth Stern. They were rescued with several litters from a Hempstead hoarding situation. Many of these kittens had severe eye infections. Last Hope tried valiant measures to save Dusty’s sight and eyes but it was too late. A specialist enucleated (removed) both his eyes and sewed the sockets shut.

Dusty is a very special kitten. He loves everyone and will sit on strangers’ laps and purr. His loving foster mom Joy Tuffarelli teaches her kittens to hold their heads up to receive forehead kisses. He compensates so well you’d swear he can see. Dusty climbs stairs, plays with toys, jumps on/off furniture, finds his litter box every time and senses when his sister Cecelia is nearby. Cecelia took Dusty under her wing as protector and guide. We’d love to see them adopted together.

I accompanied Joy and the kittens to the studio. In separate carriers, the kittens commuted by train and taxi. They waited patiently in their own green room until they met Beth Stern back stage behind the KITTEN BOWL stadium for their adoption plea.

Dusty dazzled everyone. He sat on Beth’s lap while Cecelia sat on Joy’s for over hour during multiple takes. Dusty held his head up high as he listened attentively to direction from Kathy Sutula, KITTEN BOWL producer. He was in his glory when Beth kissed his forehead, and also mentioned she and Howard would gladly take the duo if they weren’t adopted.

Dusty’s spot on KITTEN BOWL V is three months away. We hope he and Cecelia find a home before then. His appearance on national TV serves a greater purpose. This adorable kitten without eyes will demonstrate to viewers nationwide that special needs pets can lead full lives when placed in loving homes. Tune into to KITTEN BOWL V on Feb. 4 to watch feline football and the dazzling Dusty.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Cheeko” 17-357, a Ridgeback mix, lost his home when his owner moved. He’s used to kids and likes to meet small dogs. Meanwhile “Daniel” 7-516 is a three-month old tuxedo wondering why he wasn’t invited to KITTEN BOWL.

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