Puppy Bowl

Michelle Maskaly sits with her 7-month-old puppy Maddux on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, at her home in Lake George. Maskaly adopted Maddux after he participated in the annual Puppy Bowl in Manhattan using the name Bubba. (Megan Farmer - mfarmer@poststar.com)

Megan Farmer

LAKE GEORGE -- Bubba went from rescue to riches when he caught his big break on the small screen.

At 14 weeks old, the Chihuahua mix pup from Florida was chosen as one of 55 shelter and rescue dogs around the nation for the starting lineup in this year’s Animal Planet Puppy Bowl XI, which airs Feb. 1 from 3 to 5 p.m. before the Super Bowl on the network owned by Discovery.

He’s also one of 12 draftable puppies in the Puppy Bowl XI Fantasy Draft on the Animal Planet website. There are two teams — Team Ruff and Team Fluff. As of Wednesday, Bubba’s Team Ruff was favored to win by 54 percent.

The Puppy Bowl drafts pups from shelters and rescues across the nation. Shelters send in head shots and audition reels. During the game, the grunting pups aim to cross into the end zone with a toy, which is how they score points. There is a kitten halftime show, goat cheerleaders and other pets in the show.

“We spend weeks looking at photos and videos of puppies from various rescues from across the country. They are all so adorable it is a difficult process, but we try to make sure we have a diverse selection of breeds, looks and temperament. We look for puppies that range from 12-21 weeks of age,” said Animal Planet Executive Producer Melinda Toporoff in an email to The Post-Star.

The opportunity brought Bubba stardom and a forever home in Lake George. He’s now 7 months old. If you see him on the street, he now goes by Maddux. Though he gained his fame in the end zone, he’s named after Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux, said his owner, Michelle Maskaly.

Maskaly grew up in central New Jersey, visiting Lake George annually. Her great-grandparents first staked claim in the village in the 1940s.

In October, Maskaly, 34, attained her goal of moving to the village full time after a busy life working in the New York City area with stints at Bloomberg, Fox News, and then as editor in chief of Pet Age magazine, a pet industry publication in Somerset, New Jersey. Now she works remotely as the editorial director for Healthcare Packaging, a Chicago-based publication specializing in pharmaceuticals, biologics and medical device news and analysis.

Through her work at Pet Age, Maskaly befriended Florida Little Dog Rescue Director Laurie Johnson. Based in the Orlando area, her rescue organization connects dogs with foster homes prior to adoption.

Each year, Animal Planet sends out a casting call for entries for puppy athletes for the Puppy Bowl. In 2013, one of Johnson’s rescue dogs was chosen. Last year, 16 of her rescue dogs were chosen.

She and her family drove the 16 pups straight through from Florida to New York City. All but two have been adopted since the taping in October.

Maddux, who was picked with two of his littermates to play in the game, never made it back to Florida.

Maskaly, who volunteered to help Johnson at the taping, was immediately smitten.

“I knew the dogs were adoptable, I just wasn’t really expecting to walk out with a dog,” Maskaly said. “But I loved his coloring, and he just had a really sweet, really good personality. He was just fun and he ran all over the place. He was playing really well in the game. You just kinda know.”

Johnson wasn’t surprised that Maskaly adopted him.

“When we started unloading them from the carriers, she was immediately gone. His feet pretty much never hit the floor except when he was filming and doing his photos. He was pretty much with her the whole day. We would have been more surprised if she didn’t take him home,” Johnson said.

Now he lives with Maskaly and Toby, a 7-year-old Chihuahua, and her tortoise.

America’s Canine Educator Thomas Davis, a specialty trainer who travels the country working with canine unit and federal ATF dogs and everything from puppies to wolves, is now training Toby and Maddux.

He’s originally from South Glens Falls and owns the local business Adirondack Animal Services. In the summer, he lives with wolves in Colorado.

“Now you have a Puppy Bowl puppy to add to your resume,” Maskaly said to him Wednesday at her home. She said she hopes Maddux will eventually compete in agility competitions.

Maskaly said he was well socialized by the rescue. He was chosen along with two littermates, Steve and Pudge.

Johnson said he was rescued from Polk County Animal Control with his mother, her two pups from a previous litter, and his five littermates. Many of their rescues are animals seized after neglect cases.

“When they came in, the puppies were five weeks old and the mom did not want to nurse them anymore, so they needed special care,” Johnson said.

Maskaly said she’s not sure what her game day plans with the star athlete are yet. She only received the OK to tell family and friends about the details of her adopted pup recently.

“It’s always good to have a hometown hero to cheer for in the big game, and Bubba is a good one to be cheering for,” Johnson said.

Follow Amanda May Metzger on Twitter @AmandaWhistle or read her blog at www.poststar.com.

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