Hooch, an abused mas­tiff, is Hero Dog of the Year

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Leanne Italie

NEW YORK » The hu­man nearly lost his life to drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion. The dog, well, he nearly lost his life to hu­mans.

A French mas­tiff named Hooch, res­cued by Zach Skow in Te­hachapi, Cal­i­for­nia, is the 2016 Amer­i­can Hu­mane or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Hero Dog of the Year, be­stowed in a Bev­erly Hills cer­e­mony taped in Septem­ber for broad­cast at 8 p.m. EDT Fri­day on the Hall­mark Chan­nel.

Hooch, among eight ca­nine fi­nal­ists, wore his best tuxedo col­lar, though he was re­luc­tant to join Skow on stage.

Hosted by James Den­ton and Beth Stern, and fea­tur­ing Dave Fo­ley, Kym John­son, Robert Her­javec, Mar­ilu Hen­ner and Greg Louga­nis, among other celebri­ties, this is the sixth year for the awards.

The fi­nal­ists come in all shapes and sizes — and all were hon­ored for the work they do. Some pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble and com­fort the sick. Oth­ers as­sist po­lice, mil­i­tary veter­ans and res­cue the lost.

Hooch, on the other hand, was nom­i­nated for sur­viv­ing — and he was No. 1.

He was the “emerg­ing hero dog,” hav­ing been res­cued about three years ago with the help of Skow, founder and op­er­a­tor of Mar­ley’s Mutts Dog Res­cue in Te­hachapi. Skow said the res­cue goes the other way around as well.

Skow, from age 16 to 28, when he nearly died of liver fail­ure, is a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict, about eight years sober. As part of his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, he went into dog res­cue.

“Hooch has helped me stay in the mo­ment — not only in the mo­ment, but out of my head,” Skow ex­plained in a re­cent in­ter­view. “I need to be think­ing about some­thing other than me.”

He calls the dogs he res­cues his “hope.” As for Hooch, he re­ceived a call one day from a lo­cal an­i­mal con­trol of­fi­cer about an ail­ing French mas­tiff who was ema­ci­ated, had a bro­ken tail and had re­cently had his ears badly cropped. The dog re­fused to eat, in­stead bat­ting his bowls around wildly.

Skow thought some­thing was wrong with Hooch’s jaw. When the dog was checked by a vet­eri­nar­ian, they dis­cov­ered that his tongue had been ma­li­ciously cut off at the base, pos­si­bly to stop ex­ces­sive bark­ing or use him as “bait” to train fight­ing dogs.

The cop­per-col­ored Hooch can’t chew and drools pro­fusely. Skow had to fig­ure out how to feed him. Hooch pulled out a feed­ing tube. Skow then found that soft­en­ing dry food with hot wa­ter and putting it straight down Hooch’s mouth worked, and the dog slowly re­gained his health.

Now, Hooch spends some of his time with non-ver­bal autis­tic kids, calm­ing them as they learn so­cial skills. Re­mark­ably, Hooch trusts peo­ple, though loud noises like the cheer­ing he re­ceived on the night of his big win tend to shut him down.

“He has ev­ery rea­son to mis­trust ev­ery per­son he comes across and that has never crossed his mind,” Skow said. “He ex­udes hap­pi­ness.”

The first spo­ken word for some of the autis­tic kids the two meet is “Hooch,” added Skow, who is now 37.

Hooch does other work as well, as a com­pan­ion to women in shel­ters who have been vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse, for in­stance.

“Ev­ery­one called for us to eu­th­a­nize him,” Skow said. “No one could fathom that he would have a good qual­ity of life. He’s a tes­ta­ment to all of those dogs that don’t have a chance, that don’t have hope. That’s ex­actly what I was.”

The other seven fi­nal­ists for Hero Dog, all hon­ored for their ser­vice, are:

Law en­force­ment: Edo, a K-9 su­per­star with the Los Angeles Po­lice Depart­ment, and han­dler Nhut Huynh. Edo, a Bel­gian ma­li­nois, was the first sent into a house where a shootout was un­der­way. He pulled the armed man away from his weapon.

Search and res­cue: Kobuk, a Ger­man shep­herd, and han­dler El­iz­a­beth Fos­sett in York, Maine. He sniffed out an el­derly woman with di­a­betes and de­men­tia af­ter she wan­dered off from a cabin in the wilder­ness.

Ser­vice: Gan­der, a labradoo­dle res­cue, and han­dler Lon Hodge. Hodge is an Army vet­eran in Great Lakes, Illi­nois, who suf­fers from post trau­matic stress dis­or­der and was once home­bound for months at a time. The two are in­sep­a­ra­ble and travel the coun­try help­ing oth­ers with dis­abil­i­ties. “Thank you for sav­ing my life,” Hodge told his beloved Gan­der on the show.

Mil­i­tary: Layka, another Bel­gian ma­li­nois, and trainer/ vet­eran Ju­lian McDon­ald in Galena, Kansas. The dog lost a leg when she took fire while McDon­ald’s Ranger unit was as­sault­ing an en­emy com­pound in Afghanistan. McDon­ald and his fam­ily adopted Layka.

Ar­son: Judge and han­dler Lee Laubach Jr., fire chief in Al­len­town, Penn­syl­va­nia. Judge is a yel­low Labrador who has worked more than 275 fire scenes and has found ev­i­dence lead­ing to mul­ti­ple ar­rests and civil penal­ties for in­sur­ance fraud.

Hear­ing: Hook, a 12-pound, 10-year-old Chi­huahua mix, and han­dler Joyce Her­man. Her­man, from Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, is a hear­ing-im­paired mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist. He pulled Her­man off some light train tracks as a train ap­proached and once chased away a prowler in her of­fice wait­ing room.

GABRIEL OLSEN — CROWN ME­DIA UNITED STATES VIA AP

In this photo re­leased by Crown Me­dia, Zach Skow poses with his French Mas­tiff named Hooch on the red car­pet at the 2016 Amer­i­can Hu­mane As­so­ci­a­tion’s Hero Dog of the Year in Bev­erly Hills The Amer­i­can Hu­mane As­so­ci­a­tion will honor Hooch as Hero Dog of 2016 on Oct. 28 on the Hall­mark Chan­nel.

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