Things started out pretty “ruff” for Duncan, but now he’s touched down in a pretty good place.

The 9-month-old rough collie was in the starting lineup for this year’s Puppy Bowl, the Animal Planet “game” held every year on Super Bowl Sunday.

But it’s not Duncan’s stiff paw or ball-chasing ability that made his TV appearance so important — it’s his status as one of approximately 6.5 million companion animals, more than half of them dogs, that the ASPCA says are brought to shelters each year.

Many of them, Duncan included, were born into bad situations — the products of overwhelmed, irresponsible or unscrupulous breeders and owners — and suffered until officials or rescue groups stepped in.

Duncan was just weeks old when he was one of more than 100 animals seized from a Solon kennel in July — the kennel’s owner has since pleaded guilty to animal cruelty, a civil violation. He went to the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook with more than 60 other dogs from the seizure.

All have since found homes, and Duncan is now a happy member of a Scarborough family. As such, he’s become part of another, more happy statistic — he’s now one of the approximately 3.2 million shelter animals, and 1.6 million dogs, adopted from shelters each year, each one of the them saved from an early death, or at least an unfulfilling life without a family of its own.

Now that he is TV famous, Duncan can help bring attention to all the other animals who need a home, and to the organizations that care for them and help them find one. If a dog or cat is found through a legitimate shelter or rescue groups, the families who rescue them can be assured they are healthy and social — and ready to receive love and give it back. (Healthy, happy dogs can be bought from breeders who do things the right way, too — but it’s up to the consumer to tell the good breeders from the bad.)

Americans have gotten the message. According to the ASPCA, the number of shelter cats and dogs euthanized annually has dropped significantly in recent years as more and more people seek out rescue pets.

There are also about 700,000 animals, mostly dogs, returned to their owners each year by shelters, showing that shelters play an important role in the pet-owner ecosystem outside of caring for and adopting out surrendered animals.

For all they do, shelters and rescue organizations — and for that matter, state animal welfare officials — need and deserve our support.

So when you see Duncan make a break for the end zone or play in the backyard with his family, remember that just a few months ago he was living among dozens of other dogs, malnourished and neglected. And remember all the people who helped him get to where he is today.


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