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'Kitten Bowl' is fun on the football field with a serious message: shelter animals need help

This Oct. 2013 photo provided by Crown Media shows Crazy Legs playing in the

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This Oct. 2013 photo provided by Crown Media shows Crazy Legs playing in the "Kitten Bowl." The "Kitten Bowl" games air on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, 12 p.m. ET/PT on the Hallmark Channel. (AP Photo/Copyright Crown Media United States, LLC, Monique Toro)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Adorably wide-eyed, fluffy and in need of a loving home is an unusual description for a football player.

But it's perfect for the gridiron stars of Hallmark Channel's "Kitten Bowl," an event that aims to both entertain viewers and inform them about animals consigned to shelters.

"The plight of these animals is so sad and really needs" attention, said Bill Abbott, president and CEO of the channel's parent company, Crown Media, and the driving force behind the inaugural Kitten Bowl. "It is an awareness issue."

The three-hour show airs at noon EST Sunday, followed by repeat showings on what the channel is labeling "Su-Purr Bowl Sunday" for those uninterested in the real Super Bowl on Fox. The Kitten Bowl isn't the only game in which the fur flies: "Puppy Bowl," the granddaddy of the genre, marks its 10th year Sunday on Animal Planet with its own rescue dogs, kittens and, this year, penguin co-stars, who aren't up for adoption.

Carrying the idea to its wry extreme, Nat Geo Wild is counterprogramming the NFL's Denver-Seattle contest with the "Fish Bowl," starring a goldfish in a bowl, for four hours.

For Abbott, the Kitten Bowl is serious business. He's a longtime supporter of the North Shore Animal League America, a leading no-kill shelter that joined the Hallmark Channel in presenting the event. The shelter teamed with Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation to provide and care for the 71 kittens featured.

The goal is to provide an upbeat look at how to reduce the number of animals that end up homeless, Abbott said.

There's a happy ending for the bowl kittens, whose names include the playful Crazy Legs and Chase, as well as puns like Dan Furrino, for former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.

All of the felines used in taping last October have been adopted, Abbott said. They worked hard for the opportunity, including two playoff games and the championship match, and consented to interviews, presumably subtitled for non-cat speakers.

An online Feline Fantasy League features digital trading cards and adoption stories.

The Kitten Bowl is hosted by North Shore spokeswoman Beth Stern, wife of Howard Stern, and John Sterling, official radio voice of the New York Yankees. Celebrity guests dropping by include Regis Philbin, Kelly Rutherford and Carrie Ann Inaba.

Although puppies and kittens are competing only indirectly Sunday, cat-loving Abbott isn't shy about predicting who will win viewers' hearts.

"As wonderful as puppies are — and I'm a dog person, too — they are not as cagey and clever and just overall as entertaining at the end of the day," he said.

___

Online:

http://www.hallmarkchannel.com

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