RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Super Bowl 57 is next weekend, but before we see how the players put up points, we will see how the pups play.

The 19th Annual Puppy Bowl starts right before the big game and there are some home-grown pups taking the field.

8News got the chance to meet Pepper, a 10-month-old Australian Shepherd rescue who lives right here in Richmond. Pepper lives with her new mom, dad and big brother, Finn. She also has some real pup-tential to bring the puppy bowl win home to Richmond.

“Beautiful, hilarious, chaos at any given time,” said Pepper’s new owner, Meghan Vandette.

Pepper — formerly known as Cheeky Tinker — was adopted from Green Dogs Unleashed in Troy, Va., back in October 2022. The group is a non-profit rescue organization that specializes in dogs with certain disabilities.

Although Pepper is functionally deaf, her new parents have learned that she can hear certain noises, including her name.

“Oh, you heard that?” Vandette said to Pepper as they played on the couch.

Her new mom says that Pepper’s disability doesn’t stop her from being the sweetest and smartest dog.

“She is very energetic which you expect from an Aussie but also, she is super, super smart,” Vandette said. “It’s been a lot of fun actually. She’s a super sweet puppy.”

She spends most days battling with her new brother Finn who loves having a playful partner.

“She really embodies the whole little sister character,” Vandette said. “She loves biting his ears and legs and jumping on him while he’s sleeping. We usually have to remind her not to play too rough [with] him.”

Her new parents say, as avid Puppy Bowl watchers, they are beyond excited to see her compete. They didn’t even know that she was going to be in the Puppy Bowl until after they adopted her. 

‘”So, this is the funny thing, uh, we didn’t actually know she was in the Puppy Bowl until about two months after we adopted her. We had no idea,” Vandette said. “I guess right after Animal Planet announced the lineup, they text us and said, ‘by the way, you’ve been living with a celebrity for the last two months.'”

Pepper recently finished her puppy training and is doing extremely well with sit, stay down, come, spin and many other commands. The Vandettes say there are some challenges to work through when it comes to having a hearing-impaired puppy.

“You know if we’re outside and she, for whatever reason, gets off-leash, we can’t just call her and tell her to come to us,” Vandette said. “So that is one thing that’s a little bit different … not having the use of verbal cues as much.”

The Vandettes added that they don’t know if Pepper won, and they will be watching the bowl just like everyone else to find out. They may also consider a potential TV career for Pepper following the outpouring of support they’ve received.

The Ruff Canine Dog Park, in Richmond, is holding a watch party for Pepper on the day of the big game.