After rescue from abuse, a drooly pooch named Hooch is the American Humane Associations’s 2016 American Hero Dog
By Laura T. Coffey
To err is human. To forgive is Hooch.
Hooch, a French Mastiff who transformed into a drooling hunk of contentment and gratitude after surviving severe abuse, has been named American Humane’s 2016 American Hero Dog. The dog and the man who rescued him, Zach Skow of Tehachapi, California, received a thunderous standing ovation on Saturday night at the black-tie Hero Dog Awards gala in Beverly Hills.
Hooch has been named American Humane’s 2016 American Hero Dog.
“It was an amazing moment — one of those moments I will 1,000 percent never forget,” Skow, 36, the founder of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue, told TODAY. “When I think about what we’ve both been through — eight years ago, I was almost dead — to be on stage representing this dog and my organization was unbelievable.”
Skow struggled with alcoholism for years before he was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease in July 2008. He needed to be sober for six months to qualify for a liver transplant — and during that time of sobriety, he said he felt scared and suicidal.
Zach Skow credits so-called “undesirable” dogs like Hooch for saving his life.
“I had never lived without drugs and alcohol, and I had a tough time being trapped between my own ears,” he said. “But my dogs helped breathe life into me. They helped me get outside myself and be part of something bigger than myself.”
Around that period of transition, Skow established Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue to help “the throwaways”: dogs with special needs and histories of abuse and neglect who land in animal shelters in and around Bakersfield, California. Marley’s Mutts has developed a network of foster homes and saved the lives of more than 3,000 dogs that had been facing euthanasia.
Someone deliberately removed Hooch’s ears and tongue. The dog couldn’t eat or drink.
One of those dogs was Hooch, an emaciated and dehydrated stray who arrived at a Bakersfield shelter about three years ago. Shelter workers couldn’t get the dog to eat or drink; when they tried, he’d knock his food and water bowls around “like a maniac.” A vet visit revealed the shocking reason why Hooch couldn’t ingest anything: His tongue had been removed at its base at the same his ears had been badly cropped.
“It’s totally unfathomable,” Skow said. “My guess is he was probably barking or doing something his owner didn’t want him to do, and this was likely a punishment. Unfortunately we do see this around here.”
Hooch the dog drools with abandon. His rescuer Zach Skow doesn’t mind one bit.
The veterinarian equipped Hooch with a feeding tube in his neck, and for about a month the dog received all his nutrition and water that way — until he ripped the tube out. Skow adopted Hooch and focused on helping him eat. Today, they have a system that Hooch loves: Hooch sits still and flexes his neck in just the right way. Skow mixes dry dog food with warm water and, very slowly and carefully, feeds Hooch by hand. Gravity takes care of the rest.
“Every now and then he’ll get some crunches in (with his teeth), and he likes that,” Skow said. “He was only 43 pounds when we got him and he’s 95 pounds now. … He’s definitely a goofball. He drools compulsively, like no other dog you’ve ever seen.”
Like many dogs rescued by Marley’s Mutts, Hooch serves as a therapy dog for humans hungry for support and compassion. Skow said Hooch is especially good with non-verbal children with autism. The dog also helps homeless people and prisoners with backgrounds of serious addiction.
“Hooch has never met a person he doesn’t like,” Skow said. “This dog is resilience personified. … It’s very humbling to see him living life on life’s terms and being triumphant.”