The holidays are all about helping others, and no one embodies that spirit more than Hooch. Rescued in 2013 by Zach Skow, founder of Marley’s Mutts Rescue, the 6-year-old French Mastiff was found with cropped ears, a broken tail, and no tongue—he was underweight and severely malnourished. Since his miraculous recovery, he has dedicated his life to helping humans by working with special needs children—and showing everyone who meets him an incredible capacity for forgiveness. We chatted with Zach about Hooch’s past and what he thinks humans can learn from his story.
What inspired you to start Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue?
Marley’s Mutts started with me doing what I could to put one foot in front of the other and save my life through exercise after I was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease in 2008. It began with me walking my dogs three times a day. Then I added some foster dogs to the routine. I posted flyers up all over town to try and get them adopted and raised money to support them. By the time I reached my six-month sober mark, I no longer needed a transplant, and my work with dogs continued. As we added more foster homes and rescued more dogs, I applied for non-profit status in 2009.
What is the Marley's Mutts mission?
Marley’s Mutts is a non-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates, trains and re-homes death row dogs from Kern County’s high-kill animal shelters, and across the world. Our motto is, “Rescue dogs rescuing people.” Our primary focus is to make our area no-kill and help any dog within our power. Our rescue work takes us beyond California to China, Korea, Romania, Thailand, and more.
How do you help the dogs that you rescue?
We usually have about 80 rescue dogs ranging from high-need to normal within our care. If there is a medical concern, Marley's Mutts works with the vets to form a treatment plan for each case. We have a low-cost spay and neuter service available for vulnerable populations. We also have Mutt Movers, a program which moves 75 to 100 dogs out of the county every month and brings them to more adoptable areas. Finally, we run an inmate/canine training program called Pawsitive Change in which we oversee 30 to 40 dogs living inside California state penitentiaries.
How did you hear about Hooch?
The shelter let us know that they had a bully breed who’d sustained some injuries and was not eating. We went down there to meet the pup for ourselves. He had viral pneumonia, but we needed to figure out exactly why he wasn’t eating. We got him x-rayed to check out whether or not fluid was building up in his lungs, and that’s how we inadvertently discovered he didn’t have a tongue.
What was Hooch's recovery process like?
His recovery took about a month: He’s 90 pounds now and was 43 pounds at the time. He had a broken tail. His ears were crusty and infected from someone cutting them off poorly. First, we had to figure out how to feed and give him water. So, for a while we ended up feeding him through a tube via a hole in his neck. Then, we fed him nutrients through a syringe. Finally, we took the tube out once he’d healed more and fed him by hand once we realized how gentle he was.
How would you describe Hooch's personality?
He’s very confident and has become much more content with time. He’s very good with other dogs, but he’d rather be with people. He’s still not forgotten about what his life was like before, and still gets flashbacks any time he sees a camera, hears yelling, or notices a broomstick, but he doesn’t let his fears control his life.
What was the process like for Hooch to become a therapy dog?
Hooch passed the Marley's Mutts therapy dog certification process called K9 Good. It’s a 10 point test including moving through a crowded room without stopping, being left unattended in a down stay for two minutes, and more. The certification also requires 50 hours of community service. As a part of his therapy work, Hooch has been to over 80 schools and dozens of non-profit organizations.
How does he help the people he works with?
He does best with non-verbal autistic kids. Because of their struggles with communication, many children at the center tend to be very loud and don’t always understand boundaries. Most dogs wouldn’t do well in this type of environment because of the noise, but Hooch really thrived at the Valley Achievement Center for Autistic children. He went into this down stay and let kids crawl all over him. He did so well. He's also worked at veterans’ centers, schools, homes for disabled adults, and more.
What is one thing you want people to learn from Hooch's story?
Hooch shows people how to be triumphant over adversity, not just deal with it. I would like people to learn that anything is possible despite what you’ve been through. We’re not defined by the torture we’ve experienced. Instead of falling victim to his circumstances, Hooch is a product of his good decisions. Like him, we’re not destined for paralyzing anxiety, or crawling into ourselves and becoming dysfunctional, we have the power to change our lives for the better.
How can people help support Hooch and Marley's Mutts?
Some of the best ways to help our cause are by donating, interacting with us on social media, and sharing our content to spread the word about the dogs in our care. And for younger kids, we recommend that they learn what it means to be a good pet guardian and teach their friends how to love and take care of the dogs in their lives.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.