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Dakota, a six-month old pit-bull and weimaraner mix, will make an appearance this Sunday on Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl”.
Luke Franke/naples daily news

When Veronica Bertrand and Jesse Peterson showed up at the Humane Society of Naples’ coastland center location oct. 7, the couple had no idea they were in the presence of a soon-to-be TV star.

The Weimaraner and pit bull mix named Mocha, with her grayish-green eyes and white and brown spotted coat, caught their attention right away.

Turns out the 3-month-old puppy had just returned that morning from New York City, where she competed on Team Fluff in Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl,” the annual TV show that mimics the Super Bowl, but with puppies.

“We already were playing with her when they told us,” Peterson said.

“Pretty much when we were saying we wanted to sign some papers, they were like, ‘just to let you know,’” Bertrand added.

If anything, Mocha’s celebrity status made her adoption so much more special, they said.

On Sunday, Mocha — renamed Dakota — will appear on “puppy bowl xiii,” which will start at 2 p.m. with a pregame show, followed by three hours of romping, ruff-housing and roll overs. And in case you miss it, the action will repeat all day and night for a total of 10 hours.

Nowadays, when she’s not making celebrity appearances at Humane Society events, 6-month-old Dakota is chewing sticks and digging in the dirt at her golden gate estates fur-ever home.

Dakota is the first dog adopted by Bertrand and Peterson as a couple. Now they also have Rogue, a chunky, 3-week-old American bulldog who hobbles along after Dakota in the yard as she fetches sticks, although she hasn’t quite yet figured out the part about bringing the stick back.

“She’s a very well-behaved dog,” said Bertrand, who teaches first grade at Poinciana Elementary School. “With her we got so lucky.”

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Dakota greets newcomers with plenty of licks but quickly calms down. Her favorite toy? All of them, Peterson said. She loves kids and once ran head first into a sliding glass door (rookie mistake).

Dakota even won first place in her weight class running alongside Bertrand at the Run for the Paws 5K last weekend. Adoring fans asked to get their picture taken with the celebrity pup.

Bertrand and Peterson will host a “Puppy Bowl” watch party Sunday, although Dakota makes only a few timid appearances, Bertrand said.

“We’ll watch the ‘Puppy Bowl’ and then I’ll be like, ‘Uh, I guess we can watch the Super Bowl after, whatever,'” she said, laughing.

Animal Planet partnered with 34 shelters and rescue groups to recruit 78 puppies for the big game. Rachael Johnston, who handles marketing for the Humane Society of Naples, said she emailed back and forth with an executive producer all year before being selected.

Don’t tell Dakota this, but she was actually second choice to appear on the show.

A puppy named “Eclipse” was originally supposed to make the trip, but she grew too big to fit under the plane seat, Johnston said.

But Dakota ended up being the perfect puppy to take to New York City in early October for filming.

“Mocha traveled as if she had been traveling every day for three months,” she said. “Not a peep.”

Johnston doesn’t know much about how Dakota ended up in Naples, but that she was transferred here from another shelter and that her mom was a pure bred Weimaraner. After arriving in Naples, Dakota was a part of the Cell Dog Program for three or four weeks, which means she was trained by low-crime female inmates in Collier County.

During her travels to New York City, Dakota rode the subway, ate at rooftop restaurants and visited Times Square and the 9/11 Memorial.

On filming day, she got a photo with the “rufferee,” Dan Schachner.

“As soon as she was placed in there, she saw the other puppies and just ran to the people,” Johnston recalled, laughing.

Millions of viewers will tune in Sunday to watch Ruff and Team Fluff go nose to nose. Punxsutawney Phil, the weather forecasting groundhog, will officiate the coin toss, and the Chicago Rock Cats and Kitty Gaga will headline the kitty half-time show. This year, viewers will also get a pup’s eye view of the action with “Puppy Bowl” virtual reality.

Dakota, meanwhile, is still working on her fetch game, but has a growing number of followers on her Instagram account, @_dakota715.

“It’s just funny because she’s doesn’t even know,” Bertrand said. “She’s like, ‘Alright I was playing football one day with some puppies, and now I’m here.'”

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Cheer for Dakota in Puppy Bowl XIII

When:

  • 2 p.m. pre-game show, with analysis and commentary from sports correspondents
  • 3 p.m. game time
  • Repeats for next 10 hours

Where: Animal Planet

animalplanet.com/puppybowl

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