Update 9/11/16: Hooch was named the 2016 American Hero Dog by the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. Congrats, Hooch! 

It was another sunny day in Kern County, California, when Zach Skow, founder of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue, got the call from a shelter in Bakersfield about a distressed dog.

Now, just three years later, Hooch has overcome incredible odds and is running for the title of America’s 2016 Hero Dog.

The French Mastiff came into the shelter system at around 3 years of age with savagely cropped ears and a broken tail. By the time Marley’s Mutts took him in, he was nearly 35 pounds underweight and severely dehydrated.

It wasn’t until he was anesthetized for X-rays that veterinarians finally found the reason Hooch couldn’t eat or drink – his tongue had been cut off at the base.

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An emaciated Hooch after he was first rescued. Source: Marley’s Mutts Rescue

Once this horrible yet key discovery had been made, there was a learning curve to nurse Hooch back to health. Feeding tubes didn’t work because he pulled them out, so they tried several methods to get him sustenance.

Finally, Zach learned that Hooch could be hand-fed by placing food in the back of his throat and “letting gravity do the rest of the work.” As the two worked together over time, Zach and Hooch developed an incredible bond and it became clear that Hooch was already home.

Related: What It’s Really Like To Rescue Dogs In NYC
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Hooch with Marley’s Mutts founder Zach Skow. Image courtesy of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue

It wasn’t long before Hooch had nearly doubled his weight to a healthy 95 pounds and was ready to take on his new life as a loved companion.

Since coming into Zach’s life, he has been paying his love forward by helping others in need. The once skittish dog who would run at the mere sight of a broom handle found a confidence and purpose that he began to instill in all who met him.

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Image courtesy of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue

Over the last few years, Hooch has become an integral part of Marley’s Miracle Mutts, a program that incorporates rescue dogs as educational and therapeutic tools.

Hooch has visited over forty institutions, including humane education programs in schools to teach children about the importance of spay/neutering, rescue, and how to properly interact with animals; 12-step programs; domestic violence shelters; and centers for autism. He is a favorite at the Valley Achievement Center, and frequently works with non-verbal autistic children.

Related: 7 Amazing Pit Bull Therapy Dogs You Should Follow Right Now

“He’s a very happy-go-lucky kind of guy,” Zach told PupJournal. “People are very drawn to Hooch, and he has this calming energy about him. He has been an invaluable educational tool, and his confidence and energy is contagious.”

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Hooch with Marley’s Mutts’ Media Liaison Amy Klein. Image courtesy of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue

Zach first attended the Hero Dog Awards in 2013, shortly after Hooch came into his life. He thought that Hooch would be the perfect candidate for the award, but was too humble to ever enter him in the competition.

Finally, in 2016, one of the Marley’s Mutt volunteers (aka “The Mutt Militia”) took it upon themselves to nominate Hooch into one of the 173 Emerging Hero spots. Over half a million votes later, he won.

Now, Hooch is one of eight dogs competing for the Top Dog title. The other dogs have won in categories including: Law Enforcement, Military, Guide/Hearing, and Service Dogs, to name a few.

Voting ends just a few short days away on August 24th, but you can vote daily up until then, so be sure to visit Hooch’s page and cast your vote!

For a dog that was once deemed as a “throwaway,” Hooch has proven that love is a powerful motivator to bring out the best in everyone. Zach mused that he sees a lot of himself in Hooch (and all of the dogs that come into Marley’s Mutts), because he once felt like “a throwaway human.”

These dogs have given him a purpose, and it’s with that purpose that he is able to do the same for each dog that comes into his life. Hooch’s heroism exists because Skow is a hero himself.

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Image courtesy of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue

Be sure to follow Marley’s Mutts on Facebook and Instagram for updates, and check out their website to learn more about how to support their work. They are currently working on building a ranch to save even more dogs, so your donations are needed!

And of course, remember to vote for Hooch every day until August 24th. If there’s any dog out there that deserves the recognition, we’re sure it’s this guy!

Header images via Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue