Patriots player dedicates Super Bowl to his dogs' memory

Jan 30, 2015 at 11:15 a.m. ET

After a terrible event left New England Patriots defensive end Alan Branch pup-less last summer, he's dedicating this Sunday's game to the four dogs he lost that day.

Twenty-three dogs perished in June 2014 at a Phoenix-area pet boarding establishment when they were left at the facility and nobody was there to make sure the animals were fed, watered or cared for. It was a horrifying tragedy that left many pet owners reeling from the loss of their furry friends — they likely passed away in a terrible manner, as most of the dogs who were boarded during that time perished as a result of the neglect. Some families were hit really hard, like Branch — four of those dogs were his treasured family pets.

This Sunday marks Branch's first Super Bowl appearance, and it's with a heavy heart that he dedicates his big day to the memory of his four furry family friends. Many football players dedicate the game to a friend, family member or a lost loved one. It makes perfect sense for Branch to play for his lost pooches, who are important members of a family unit.

Branch started out in the NFL playing for the Arizona Cardinals in 2007 and established a home there, and this is where he still lives in the off-season. When the tragedy happened, he and his family were going out of town and boarded their five pets at Green Acre Dog Boarding in Gilbert, Arizona, and felt they were in good hands.

Unfortunately they got a call while they were away that four of their dogs were dead, and they were considerably upset. I found a review for the company his wife wrote on Yelp, and you can feel her pain as she describes what they went through. Not only did the story change about what happened to their pets, but criminal charges are being brought against those whom they trusted to care for them. "On top of this tragedy, not once have we received any type of apology for our loss from the owners," she writes. "They met my family upon drop off, and knew we had two small children we would have to explain this apology."

The owners of the facility were originally charged with nearly two dozen felony counts of neglect, and those who they left in charge while the owners were out of town were also charged with animal cruelty and neglect. However, all the charges against the owners were dropped, save one fraud charge.

Branch says they will eventually add more pets to the family, but getting over the loss has been difficult. For now, though, he plays for his canine friends on Sunday.

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