By Janet McAfee
“Who Rescues Who?” The bumper sticker with the paw print graces the back of many automobiles. There is an army of folks, some independent, others working for large animal welfare organizations, at the front lines in the battle to save homeless animals. Who are they? What motivates them? They come from all countries, all religions, and all political persuasions. However, the overwhelming majority of them are women.
One handsome young man named Zach Skow stands out in the crowd of thousands of women at the Best Friends’ No More Homeless Pets conference. Zach’s nonprofit animal rescue organization, Marley’s Mutts, is located on 16 acres in the beautiful Tehachapi hills surrounding his and his father’s houses. This is a marvelous sanctuary where abused dogs and rescued shelter dogs are rehabilitated and rehomed.
What motivated Zach to establish and operate an animal rescue organization? In 2008, at age 28, Zach Skow was facing end-stage liver disease after battling alcoholism since his teens. He was close to death, in the hospital for over a month, and too weak for a liver transplant. One of his doctors recommended exercise, and he began taking walks with his father’s rescue dog named Marley, a Rottweiler-pit bull mix. He started fostering large dogs for the local Humane society, and experienced new confidence from his work with them. Zach reports, “I stay sober because of the work I do with the dogs. After ten months, the doctors found I no longer needed a liver transplant. I credit all that to the dogs. This work keeps me out of my own head and gives me focus and purpose”.
Today, Marley is still by Zach’s side. Marley is the “pack General”, the lead in the group of three permanent dogs at the Rescue. Marley breaks up any disputes between the dogs. Marley’s composure and application of correction provides a symbiotic relationship between the dogs, and serves to train the newcomers how to behave. The rescue dogs are treated like family. The dogs receive treadmill training, leash training, housebreaking, and learn how to ride in a vehicle. This socialization ensures they will adapt well into their adoptive homes with humans and other canines.
Zach is involved in community outreach to drug and alcohol organizations and local schools. Always accompanied by a dog, he talks to young people about avoiding the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. He’s young enough for the students to relate to, and they listen attentively when he tells them how close he came to not making it out alive.
And the miracles happen for the animals. One dog, Geronimo, arrived at Marley’s Mutts with badly infected ears, most likely the result of someone trying to crop them with scissors. Today, Geronimo is a happy pup showing no signs of fear or trauma. Two dogs recently arrived with third degree burns over most of their bodies, and the Grossman Burn Center was instrumental in saving them. Today those dogs visit pediatric burn units as therapy dogs.
For those of us involved with rescue dogs, they transform our lives, teaching us lessons of optimism, forgiveness, and second chances. They give hope to the hopeless, and guide us into the present, freeing us from past disappointments. They rehabilitate inmates in prison, they sooth the wounds of our veterans traumatized from combat, and they comfort the sick in hospitals. And sometimes they bring new purpose to those fighting the demon of substance abuse.
Zach Skow was featured by Oprah as one of “The 15 Guys Changing the World”. His work with both animals and young people is an inspiration. He operates in Kern County where the animal shelter is bursting at the seams, and the euthanasia rate is one of the highest in the country. To meet the challenge, Marley’s Mutts is adding a new building in order to save and rehome more dogs.
Zach appeared on the Dr. Drew television show was featured in many news stories. After reading his story, a woman named Sheyenne wrote, “This is a personally inspiring story for me. As a professional dog trainer…..I thought my life was over when I was admitted to the hospital for a liver condition very similar to Zach’s, and not a very hopeful prognosis. I am a survivor of a domestic violence situation in which I was held captive, totally controlled, and assaulted on a daily basis for 6 months. Over the years, alcohol became a coping mechanism……Zach’s story hit home because it’s the dogs and the horses that initially gave me the will, one day at a time, to want to recover and maintain that sobriety….Animals are a constant reminder of how to take life simply and be in the moment.”
Since March, 2009, Marley’s Mutts has rescued and found homes for over 800 dogs. “They were throwaway dogs, and there was a time when I felt like a throwaway human being”, Zach reports, “They’ve experienced a metamorphosis, and so have I.” For more information about Marley’s Mutts, visit their website at www.marleysmutts.com.