Beth Stern likes football and likes puppies, so no, she does not view them as the competition for the inaugural Kitten Bowl, which she will host on Hallmark Channel the first Sunday in February - a day previously known for the Super Bowl and Puppy Bowl.
"The Steelers are not in it, but I love watching the Super Bowl," said Stern, an actress and television personality who grew up in the Pittsburgh area. "And we still love going over to Animal Planet and the Puppy Bowl. We thought that was so adorable.
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"I will be going from the Super Bowl to the Kitten Bowl to the Puppy Bowl to the Kitten Bowl to the Super Bowl. I will have my remote in hand the entire time . . . I do not view it as competition. I view it as an extra added fun thing to watch during Super Bowl Sunday."
The Kitten Bowl was a natural for Stern, who with her husband, the radio personality Howard Stern, has fostered more than 50 cats and kittens since last summer and has five cats of her own.
She also for the past decade has been a spokeswoman for North Shore Animal League America, where she serves as a volunteer and along with her husband is working to raise $7 million for a major expansion of the organization's shelter in Port Washington.
Stern taped the Kitten Bowl several weeks ago in a Manhattan studio where 71 "competitors" appeared in events including hurdles, jumps, weave poles, lures and toys-on-string. As a Hallmark news release explained it, "Four teams will lock whiskers in paw-to-paw comcat action to make a little television hiss-tory."
Stern said there were two games, the first pitting black kittens against tabbies and the second orange vs. gray, with the winners meeting for the championship. "Very exciting stuff," she said.
"It's really cute. Kittens are climbing on goal posts, climbing on the field, there is felt where it has pictures of people so it looks like the stands are full. It's like you can't find a kitten and they've crawled up the side of the wall.
"At one point there was one on the ceiling and you pull them off like Velcro and put them down on the field. And some of them in the middle of the field, they take little catnaps.
"Really adorable, that's all I can say. It's just the cutest thing I've ever been a part of."
One of the highlights of the project was working with her play-by-play partner: Yankees radio voice John Sterling.
"A lot of our stuff was separate, but I met him and we did a lot of standups together and promos together," Stern said. "I was so psyched to meet him because his voice was so familiar. He had a ball. I'll speak for him. I know he had a good time. There was a constant smile on his face every time I was with him.
"He's hilarious. He made me laugh. He was smiling the whole time. I think he didn't know what to expect when he came in and here he is announcing kittens on the field who were doing the funniest, silliest things. He was definitely embracing it and having a really good time."
Knowing of her interest in pets and pet adoption, Hallmark came to Stern with the idea.
"I think people started becoming aware of my connection with cats and kittens, especially over the past year, through my husband on his radio show," she said. "We've fostered over 50 cats and kittens - not all at one time - since June, and my husband speaks about it on the air a lot and my husband and I have adopted five cats that we call our own, our babies, and we recently adopted a blind cat. So we've become the crazy cat family.
"And I do some work on TV and Hallmark Channel came up with this idea and thought of me right away to host it, and I was beyond thrilled, because it's a dream job for me."
Stern agreed, with one stipulation: That she be allowed to supply kittens from the North Shore Animal League. So the shelter, along with a couple of its partner shelters, provided 71 kittens for the show.
"I had the time of my life frolicking on a field with 71 kittens," she said. "And after the taping we held an adoption event at North Shore Animal League and all 71 kittens have since been adopted.
"So we're going to hold little Kitten Bowl parties with all of our shelter partners all over the United States on Super Bowl weekend, so when people are watching the Kitten Bowl and think one of the orange cats is super cute, chances are they can go to their local shelter or one of the shelters that's having a Kitten Bowl party and adopt.
"We're just trying to raise awareness of what great pets cats and kittens are. All 71 [used on the show] are in loving homes right now."
Stern said some of her celebrity friends dropped by the taping.
"Animal lovers like Rachael Ray," she said. contributes so much money every year through her dog food that 100 percent of the proceeds go to animal rescue, and North Shore Animal League has benefited. Her company came up with a new cat food so we had all the kittens try it out, which was so cute. It was a big hit.
"Then I had Regis [Philbin] stop by. He's my neighbor and I always associate him with his cat Ashley that unfortunately passed away last year . . . Then I had Hoda Kotb come in, and Kelly Rutherford fell in love with one of our players and adopted two of our players. So it was really fun."
Stern said the planned expansion of the Port Washington shelter would add a full second floor to the facility.
"My idea was to create a second floor on the existing shelter, so it would be 15,000 square feet upstairs where that would be a cage-free area, probably three different rooms, where cats can roam without being in cages, and in addition to that a feline wellness center so people can come and bring their cats in for veterinary care," she said.
"In turn, it will free up the entire downstairs for more puppy mill rescues and adult dog rescues. So it's kind of a win-win for dogs and cats. We're projecting that we have to raise $7 million. We found our architect and contractor and we are really excited.
"We're hoping that this is going to be completed within the next three years. So far the fundraising has been really wonderful and I'm just hoping and encouraging more people to donate, so the sooner we have the money the faster it will be built."
The expansion is to be called Bianca's Furry Friends, "in honor of my husband and my bulldog that passed away last year. She was just the love of our lives and she was always so gentle and kind to all of the cats we rescued during the time that she was with us."
Stern said her current focus is cats and kittens, but that come spring she might adopt a dog.
Why spring? "Just because of the walking, the waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning when my husband's alarm goes off, that's what time our dog would wake up and say, 'OK, time to go out!' " she said. "And that's pretty brutal in the middle of winter. So I definitely see a dog in our near future, but I'm probably going to wait until spring."
Stern said she watches the Steelers when she is home on game days, and added most of her family lives in Pittsburgh and still roots hard for the team. "I'm definitely a New Yorker now," she said, "but I still love my Steelers."
She said the idea of a Super Bowl in the New York area should "bring a really cool energy into New York City. It's about time."
Still, she said, she and Howard are unlikely to attend in person. "I know it was an option," she said, "but we enjoy watching it in our own home with all of our cats hanging over all over us."