Dog overcomes severe abuse to help autistic children and the homeless

Posted at 8:27 AM, Jul 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-27 11:27:20-04

While his rescue may have been “typical”, Hooch is far from a run-of-the-mill dog.

When Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue took the dog from a shelter three years ago, he weighed half of what he does now and was suffering from a bad case of pneumonia. His ears had been sheared off, leaving him with an infection. But all of this seemed minor once the veterinarian finally opened Hooch’s mouth and made a horrifying discovery -– his tongue had been removed.

Hooch had been a victim of severe abuse, and some of Marley’s Mutts’ social media followers urged the rescue organization to euthanize the dog, but founder Zach Skow immediately recognized Hooch’s capacity to persevere and lead a normal life.

“We don’t treat him specially and we don’t enable him to feel sorry for himself, which is how he’s become such an incredible dog,” Skow told ABC News of his beloved canine. Skow eventually adopted Hooch from his rescue, and now refers to him as both his spirit-animal and his wingman.

Hooch’s lack of tongue made eating nearly impossible, but through experimentation and determination, Skow and his team developed an effective technique. To feed Hooch, Skow pours hot water over dry food, rolls it into a ball, and places it in the back of his mouth.

“It's the most therapeutic thing. If you’re feeling lost inside of yourself or feeling sorry for yourself -- all those things that tend to happen to us because of the rigors of life -- if you take the time to feed Hooch, nothing will snap you out of your [rut] like feeding that dog,” Skow said, noting the perspective his dog provides.

Staying cool is also a challenge for Hooch, since dogs rely on panting to regulate their body temperature. And though less detrimental to his health, Hooch’s tongueless mouth is also defenseless against drool.

But perhaps most remarkable of all the obstacles Hooch has overcome, is how he has managed to put his trauma behind him and embrace people.

“He could choose to have [his past] control him, but he doesn’t,” Skows said of his dog's admirable aptitude for people. “He’s a powerful reminder to get out of your pity party and to live.”

Though he is not an officially certified therapy dog, Hooch and Skow take regular trips to local organizations where Hooch works with autistic children, the homeless, and other individuals who could use some canine companionship.

Skow notes that Hooch is especially good with nonverbal autistic children -– a particularly difficult task for most dogs -– because he is able to stay calm when the kids get excited and can adapt to the abnormal body language. His connections with the children are so powerful, in fact, that one of the nonverbal children even began saying Hooch’s name, according to Skows.

Hooch’s work with the community has recently earned him the coveted Emerging Heroes Award from the American Humane Society.

“He’s a testament to how we all ought to live,” Skows said. “A lot of times we search for examples of how to be resilient, and he’s a living, breathing, drooling example of that.”