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NFL's Juwan Johnson and Wife Chanen Share How 'Emotional Support' from Their Dogs Prepared Them for a Baby (Exclusive)

"They bring so much joy to our lives," Chanen Johnson tells PEOPLE

<p>Courtesy of Hill

Courtesy of Hill's Pet Nutrition

Juwan Johnson and Chanen Johnson with their shelter dog, Fitzgerald

After New Orleans Saints star Juwan Johnson and his wife, Chanen Johnson, tied the knot in 2020, they didn't wait long to become dog parents.

"We really jumped into the whole parenthood thing fast," Chanen tells PEOPLE. The couple's pooches, Fitzgerald and Hendrix, joined the family in the months following the wedding. "It was amazing. It impacted our lives so much. Obviously, 2020 was a crazy year."

"They were literally emotional support," she adds. "They bring so much joy to our lives. Now that we have a baby, she and the dogs get along well. They're the sweetest, and it's just the cutest little fam."

The couple, who met as students at Penn State, welcomed their first child, J'adore Blessing Johnson, in July.

The parents' first dog, Hendrix, is a French bulldog they describe as having a Napoleon complex.

"He's small, but he tries to attack anything," Juwan tells PEOPLE of the dog, a pet known for his side eye. "I was vacuuming the other day, and he was trying to chase the vacuum."

"He thinks he's big and buff, but he's a tiny little dude," Chanen adds.

Dog two is Fitzgerald. Juwan got the canine, thought to be a Chihuahua/terrier mix, from a shelter in Mississippi as a gift for Chanen. The pup, whom Juwan describes as "very sweet," has grown larger than expected and is now 60 lbs.

"His personality is the Chihuahua in him, for sure," Chanen says. "He thinks that he's so little and always wants to be cuddling."

<p>Chanen Johnson instagram</p> Juwan Johnson and Chanen Johnson with their daughter J'Adore.

Chanen Johnson instagram

Juwan Johnson and Chanen Johnson with their daughter J'Adore.

Related: Juwan Johnson, Wife Chanen Pose with Newborn Daughter J'adore for NFL Family Photo: 'Baby's First Game'

Their experience adopting Fitzgerald inspired the couple to participate in pet adoption events in New Orleans.

"Getting Fitzgerald from the shelter literally made me sob because of the number of dogs that I saw there, and I know that they're getting overcrowded and just going through all that, so I can't even imagine having to deal with that, just being a little puppy," Chanen says.

The Johnsons are teaming up with Hill's Pet Nutrition and Greater Good Charities to help raise donations for Shelter Bowl 2024, which supports pets in need. During Shelter Bowl, which runs through Feb. 11, Hill's will donate meals to animal shelters and rescues across the country, and Hill's and other partners will match every donation up to $30,000.

While Chanen says Hendrix and Fitzgerald are "polar opposites in every way," their favorite activity is playing with each other.

J'Adore, nicknamed Dori, has recently started reaching out to pet Fitzgerald.

"Fitz is very attached to Dori, so they have their little moments, and he'll come and lick her and play with her," Chanen says."When she was a newborn, he would just sit there and protect her at all costs. And if someone came and walked by, he wasn't having it" she adds.

<p>Juwan and Chanen Johnson/YouTube</p> Hendrix

Juwan and Chanen Johnson/YouTube

Hendrix

Chanen says caring for the two canines prepared them to be parents.

"To be honest, it's very similar," she says. "Both of our dogs were puppies when we got them, so there's the little baby stages. It goes a lot faster with dogs. Our dogs are old in dog years now, they're grown, but it really did prepare us. It got us in a routine of caring for someone other than ourselves."

"Yeah, it just gets you in a routine because when they're newborns and they're crying in the middle of the night, they need to go to the bathroom, you got to train them, you got to potty train them, and then you got to teach them morals, manners, and things like that," Juwan adds. "It's just with the dogs, it's expedited, rather than kids that take months and years."

The dogs also helped the couple through a tough time before Dori was born.

<p>Chanen Johnson instagram</p> Juwan Johnson and Chanen Johnson.

Chanen Johnson instagram

Juwan Johnson and Chanen Johnson.

Related: Juwan Johnson and Wife Chanen Reveal They Had Two Miscarriages as They Look Back at 2022

"We had two miscarriages last year, and I feel like having our dogs was huge, honestly," she says. "We kept to ourselves a lot of last year and didn't really want to go out and about and socialize. It can just be tough. And having them there was really special for us."

"Yeah, that was helpful because we were still able to be parents to something," Juwan adds. "They were helpful. They were fun. They always do the quirkiest things and help us through a lot."

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Dori attended her first NFL game in September to cheer on her dad, and the 6-month-old — who frequently appears on her parents' popular TikTok account — is on the verge of more milestones.

"I think she's going to walk soon, but she's about to crawl," Chanen says. "She's also really close to talking, which we're excited about. I'm going to capture the footage of the first time she talks. There's no way I'm going to miss that. Oh my gosh, she's so old, it's scary. She's literally going to start driving soon."

For more information on the Shelter Bowl, visit GreaterGood.org/Field-Goal.

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