Forget Rihanna — it was Joey the two-legged puppy from Tiverton who stole the show on Sunday.
Joey — so named because he hops like a baby kangaroo — melted hearts as a star of Puppy Bowl XIX.
Currently weighing in at 13 pounds, Joey is a mixed breed — part Chihuahua and Shih tzu, according to Animal Planet — who first hopped into the hearts of Tiverton’s Cathy Larson and Laurie Thibodeau last summer.
Joey’s newfound fame since playing in Puppy Bowl 2023 has made him something of a Rhody star — Larson hopes her poster-pup for special needs dogs will spread awareness that they’re no different than any other puppies.
“Don’t shy away from it just because they look different. They’re full of love,” she said.
Originally named Christmas, Joey was born on Dec. 25, 2021, in Connecticut. He’s totally healthy, other the fact he was born with no front legs.
While his four-legged siblings were sold, the family reached out to a shelter in Connecticut, and the shelter recommended Joey go to Vintage Pet Rescue in Foster, said Kristen Peralta.
She and her husband Marc founded the shelter that focuses on “vintage” dogs over 14 years old, but have also taken in some dogs in hospice and have expanded to take in dogs with special needs, she said.
“We’ve never taken on a dog without front legs, but we’ve taken dogs who are paralyzed in their back legs, so I guess they thought we’d be equipped to handle it,” said Peralta.
“Honestly, he didn’t really need anything special,” Peralta said. “He’s a super happy, healthy dog. No real issues. He got around just fine.”
Once he was “six or eight months old,” Vintage got him fitted for his for a wheelchair via Eddie’s Wheels in Shelburne Falls, Mass.— though Joey prefers going it on his own.
“He gets around in the wheelchair, but he doesn’t love being in it. He’s just used to being on his own. It’s how he was born. It’s not like he thinks he’s any different,” Peralta said.
Peralta put him up for adoption and got an “amazing application from a couple in Tiverton. They have five other dogs who are all either senior or disabled. Joey’s best friend has three legs, and they’re inseparable.”
The couple had seen Joey’s photo online.
“The minute I saw him I was in love,” said Larson.
As soon as he went up for adoption, they applied. He was officially adopted in July, she said.
The Puppy Bowl typically features dogs up for adoption, but because they film so many months in advance, most dogs are already adopted by February, said Peralta.
Animal Planet has featured the Rhode Island shelter before. After seeing a photo of Joey online, they reached out again to Peralta.
Larson said she didn’t hesitate when Peralta told her the Puppy Bowl was interested in drafting Joey.
“Our take our take on it was, whatever we can do to bring recognition to dogs with special needs — they are lovable, they are adoptable. And anything to bring recognition to Vintage Pet because they do so much for dogs,” said Larson. “So we were willing to go along with the process, it’s been an adventure.”
The Puppy Bowl filmed in Glen Falls, New York, in October. Kristen, Larson and Joey made the trip together, for a 10-hour day of filming, said Larson. Joey was around 10 months old and 10 pounds when they filmed.
Watching her tiny boy in the big game, “Of course, my heart melted,” said Larson.
One photo Peralta posted that perfectly captures Joey, Larson said: “There’s one of Joey in his wheelchair, just looking at the set, like, nothing is too much for him. Nothing is too big for him. He’s just absorbing it.”
Joey’s siblings — and a few friends — joined in for a watch party on Sunday — his pals even seemed to recognize him.
But he hasn’t let all the attention go to his head — his favorite things remain the same: eating, playing tug-of-war with his siblings, and wrestling with his three-legged brother Murphy. You can follow Joey and gang on Instagram or Facebook, via “The Adventures of Joey and Friends.”
“He loves to snuggle. He doesn’t have the front legs, so he can get closer,” said Larson. “He’ll wrap himself around your neck.”
Larson said caring for Joey means thinking about his hydration, making sure he has plenty of bathroom breaks, and helping him down off the sofa once he hops up.
Their Tiverton living room is filled with gym mats and cushioning “so he can play like a regular dog without hurting himself. He likes to play. He likes to be rough.”
Adopting a dog like Joey just means “thinking outside the box, but so be it.”
The Peraltas currently have 26 dogs at Vintage Pet Rescue, with another 10 in foster care. Of the 255 dogs they took in last year, “probably 250 were seniors. I think we had about 220 adoptions.”
“Our fosters have the dogs until they can get all their bloodwork, surgeries — some some need back surgery, some need to be neutered, some are kind of just like recovering from skin issues. So they’ll take them and get them to the vet. We pay for all that. And then once the dog is ready and healthy, we’ll post them for adoption.”
Peralta still sees Joey “all the time. We just did an event where he signed paw-tographs, and about 100 people came to see him. He’s kind of a big deal in Rhode Island.”
After the Puppy Bowl, Vintage has seen new social media followers, and “a decent amount of donations, which is wonderful to help with our massive vet bills.”
If you fell in love with Joey, you might want to adopt Rocket, a Jack Russell/ Rat Terrier mix, who is in a wheelchair.
“He’s got all four legs, but he’s paralyzed, most likely hit by a car,” Peralta said.
Like Larson, she hopes Joey has shown the nation that “special needs dogs are amazing. If somebody’s looking to to add a member to their family, then they shouldn’t shy away from the seniors or the special needs dogs.”
Lauren Daley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.