Hero Dog Award Winner Hooch Lost His Tongue to Abuse — But Never Lost His Spirit
You're looking at the American Hero Dog of 2016, taking the top prize at Hallmark Channel's American Humane Hero Dog Awards.
Hooch is a French Mastiff that bounced back from abuse to help comfort and change the lives of prisoners, the elderly and autistic children as a certified therapy dog.
Hooch's story as a hero starts with Zach Skow, the founder of Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue. Skow started the non-profit after overcoming a drug and alcohol addiction. Given six months to get sober in order to be eligible for a life-saving liver transplant, he struggled to move past his extreme health problems and self-loathing.
He found a new start in dog rescue, gaining strength from the endless optimism and hope he saw in the abused and needy dogs he was helping.
"Everyday my dogs looked up at me like I was the greatest person on the planet, they never though about yesterday," Skow tells PEOPLE.
"My dogs' unconditional love got me outside and walking with them. We started to get a little bit further and a little bit further each day. I started to get hope and put one foot in front of the other — literally."
Several months later, Skow was sober and healthy enough to no longer need a liver transplant. This miraculous recovery led him to dedicate his life to the animal that helped save his.
One of the many dogs to benefit from all the positive changes in Skow's life is Hooch. The French Mastiff is one of Marley's Mutts miracle mutts, which means he is a certified therapy dog and educational assistant who was once a canine many had given up hope on.
Marley's Mutts took Hooch in when he had a broken tail, pneumonia and cropped ears. An X-ray at the vet later revealed the dog's tongue had been removed as well. Unable to eat, many thought it was inhumane to keep the dog alive, but Skow did not give up. He found a way to hand-feed Hooch and help the dog make a full recovery. Meeting the pup now, you would never guess the hardships he has seen.
"There is an overwheleming amount of sympathy and shock; his story hurt ears. There is a lot of anger for a couple seconds, but then you don't have time to feel sorry for him because he is such a good dog." Skow explains about how people react to Hooch. "His presence isn't one where you want to feel sorry for him."
Now a certified therapy dog, Hooch spends his time not worrying about today, tomorrow or yesterday, and helping others do the same. He has visited more than 30 schools and several prisons, and the patient, kind pup also works with non-verbal autistic children.
"Non-verbal autistic children are misunderstood literally and figuratively," Skow says. "Many have not seen or interacted with dog."
"Hooch is non-reactive. He puts up with all of the attention as these kids become comfortable with him and has ended up developing relationships with many of the kids. One of the kid's first words was 'Hooch.' "
"Hooch is a being that communincates the point that it is important to take a step back and enjoy," Skow summarizes.
To learn more about Hooch and the other inspiring hero dogs of 2016, tune in to the American Humane Hero Dog Awards on Hallmark Channel on Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. ET.