A recovering alcoholic and transplant survivor gives a second chance to abandoned dogs.
- Written byStefan Slater
Hooch, a friendly, 3-year-old French mastiff, is a perfect example of what Zach Skow aims to achieve daily with his nonprofit organization, Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue.
The formidably-sized dog trots alongside Zach, content and well-behaved despite the abundant distractions on The Strand in Manhattan Beach: runners, bothersome leaf blowers, skateboarders and other inquisitive, leash-tugging dogs of all sizes.
But when the Hermosa native first rescued Hooch, the dog was at a dire low point. “Someone had cut his tongue out,” says Zach, as he gently scratches Hooch’s immense head. The dog’s ears had been removed at some point too—the painful modifications having been done so there was less to tear away during a dogfight.
Ill and barely able to eat, Hooch’s chances were bleak. But Zach believes wholeheartedly in second chances, and now Hooch has joined the ranks of the roughly 1,500 dogs that Marley’s Mutts has rescued and rehabilitated since it started in 2009.
Zach spends much of his time now in Tehachapi, California, rescuing, rehabilitating and placing abused and neglected dogs throughout the Kern County area. He lives on a 3½-acre ranch, giving the dogs plenty of opportunity for fresh air and exercise. In addition to caring for them, he also runs, hikes, bikes and even skateboards with the dogs.
“They live with me as my dogs,” says Zach, who also works closely with a network of 30 or so foster homes. “They need to be able to live in a home environment.”
The concept for Marley’s Mutts developed during a trying time in Zach’s life. In 2008, he was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. “It was as bad as it could get, and it was getting worse,” says Zach.
He’d been battling alcoholism that had started during his teens, and his body was nearing its breaking point. In need of a liver transplant and with his stomach severely swollen and his skin turning yellow, Zach began to focus on recovery.
He started exercising regularly, which included walking with two dogs that he’d rescued: Marley (a Rottweiler-pit bull mix) and Tug (a Labrador mix). Though he was struggling, the dogs gave Zach hope for a better life.
“I could tell by looking at them that they loved me. It was the only way for me not to feel alone,” says Zach. After a long and painful recovery and a successful transplant, Zach decided to start saving the animals that had effectively saved him.
He focused his efforts on rescuing dogs like Marley—larger, mixed-breed dogs that were often overlooked due to their size or troubled background. “These are dogs very much like me: throw-away dogs that have no future, that might as well be forgotten,” says Zach.
Working with his team of foster homes, Zach rehabilitates these dogs and readies them for a life with a loving family. With Marley’s help as an impromptu pack leader, Zach trains the dogs to interact positively with people and other dogs.
Aside from rescuing and caring for them, he also takes many of the dogs, like Hooch, to schools, prisons and rehabilitation centers to share both his and the dogs’ stories. Marley’s Mutts, which became nonprofit in 2010, has been a success; the organization currently averages four adoptions a week.
Marley’s Mutts is about hope, and Zach does his best to spread his belief that nearly anyone or anything—dog and man alike—can come back from the brink. “It doesn’t get much worse than where I was,” says Zach. “And if you allow yourself to let people in, let dogs in, literally anything is possible.”
Marley's Mutts is a nonprofit organization that rescues, rehabilitates, trains and re-homes death row dogs from Kern County’s high-kill animal shelters. If you would like to adopt or foster a dog, volunteer or donate much-needed funds to the program, please visit marleysmutts.com for more information.