There is no denying the transformational power that dogs can have on their owners, but that doesn’t mean we ever tire of hearing the impact they make.

Sadly, we lost a very important member of the rescue community last month. On December 13, Marley, the inspiration behind Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue and the reason that thousands of dogs have been saved, passed on at the age of 15.

pit bull mix

Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

Marley had a very special mission in life, and probably not an easy one. His owner and founder of Marley’s Mutts, Zach Skow, had been struggling with substance abuse issues since he was 16 years old. Skow often talks about feeling like a “throwaway” human that wasn’t deserving of love, and it led him to self-medicate in an effort to cope with every aspect of life.

Marley, a pit bull/Rottweiler mix, was the one who started to change all that for him. Skow told PupJournal:

“Marley represented what I wanted to be and what I had the potential to be — confident, calm, and good with people.”

It wasn’t an immediate transformation. A dog’s love is powerful, but so is addiction.

Related: These Inmates And Rescue Dogs Were Losing Hope, And Then They Found Each Other

Marley was rescued at 8 weeks old from the Mojave Animal Shelter in Kern County in 2002. He wrote on the Marley’s Mutts Facebook page that the pup was so small, he would carry Marley around in his backpack with just his head poking out.

Marley was the first ray of sober hope that Skow recognized. It may have taken a few years, but eventually the power of Marley’s love won.

Skow was presented with a difficult choice in 2008 when he learned that he had end stage liver disease, which meant: get clean, or die.

dog sunglasses

Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

Skow is very open about his previous struggles and the role that Marley played. He wrote in a post on Facebook:

“It was [Marley’s] relentless love, omnipresent affection and ‘today can be the best day of our life’ mentality which helped me live again. When I had no love for self, but rather great contempt, it was Marley who showed me I was worthy of love.

“Every morning I contemplated suicide, and every morning he looked at me with a blinding affection which simply could not be ignored. He would force me to love myself by showing me how much he loved me. And it worked. I was stubborn and held out as long as possible and nearly lost my life because of it, but it worked!”

Related: Service Dog Helps Veteran Save Lives — By Supporting His

Skow began attending AA meetings in order to get on the transplant list, and it was there that he got involved with a large breed rescue called Canine Canyon Ranch. Skow slowly began working with shelter dogs. He began feeling better, so he started fostering dogs and getting more involved with the rescue. After about six months of working with the dogs, Skow was doing well enough that he no longer needed a transplant.

Through it all, Marley was an excellent teacher for the pups taken in — in fact, Skow called him the “Pack General.”

Skow jokingly told PupJournal,”It was like he read a handbook on how to handle little [troublemaker] foster dogs.” He stated in a Facebook video,

“I could bring any kind of dog into that situation, and if they would go to pee in the kitchen, he would bark at them. If they would try and start a fight, he would break it up with his chest… He was stern and confident. He kept the energy where it needed to be, and he kinda taught me a lot about how to be with dogs.”

As fostering kept Skow busy in his sobriety and helped more and more dogs find homes, it led to the founding of Marley’s Mutts in April of 2009. The founder of Canine Canyon Ranch was moving and left him a number of kennels and supplies to build his own space for dogs. Even animal control officers in the area he had come to know encouraged him to continue the rescue work.

There were just too many animals in need, and Skow was ready to help show them the love that he had been blessed with, so he decided to fill the gap that Canine Canyon Ranch would leave behind.

rescue t-shirt

Marley a.k.a. “The Pack General” and his BFF Skow wearing some “Mutt Militia” gear. Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

Though Skow’s road has been a hard one, it has also been one of  deep empathy and understanding. The dogs Marley’s Mutts take on are often the “undesirables” — the “mangled and mangy mutts, the aggressive and the scared…” In other words, the tough cases that are put down all too often without getting that chance to fight through their fears.

Skow sees his former self in these dogs and understands them more than most.

pit bull mix

Source: Zach Skow / Photo: April Massirio

Unfortunately, we also know that a dog’s time on this earth is all too brief. Even at the age of 15 (which is relatively long for a 100 pound dog like Marley), it’s never long enough.

Skow had noticed that Marley, a dog who never showed pain (even after being hit by a car once!), was limping quite a bit, so he took him to the vet. In late October 2016, the diagnosis came: Marley had advanced osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and his days were numbered.

dog chair

Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

Of course, Skow wasn’t going to give up on Marley just like Marley never gave up on him. He trusted that Marley would let him know when it was time, and did everything to make his ending as comfortable as possible.

Related: 4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Loving — And Losing — A Pit Bull

He was too old for invasive treatments such as amputating the leg or chemotherapy, so on the advice of friends and veterinarians, Skow started Marley on a series of nutraceuticals — pharmaceutical-grade nutrients that help combat bad cells and free radicals.

dog family

Skow (left) with Marley and his dad (right). Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Photo: Rebecca Wuth

He was also introduced to CBD oil — a natural, non-psychoactive hemp extract that helps with pain, inflammation, and loss of appetite, among other things. Although he was skeptical at first, Skow credits that with giving Marley an extra month to say goodbye. He told PupJournal that the effects were almost immediate, heightening his senses and making him more “puppylike” again.

Rainbow Bridge

Skow’s father comforts him during an obviously emotional goodbye. Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

Sadly, Marley still had to make his final journey over Rainbow Bridge, and Skow wasn’t the only one sad to see Marley go. Skow’s other dogs, Buddy and Tug, as well as his father were also there for the tearful goodbye.

Buddy, Marley’s fur sibling for 13 years, gave him a shower of kisses to make him more comfortable before they let him drift off. Tug, also age 15, waited outside of the room as the scene unfolded, but came in the moment Marley crossed over to pay his respects.

Though Marley is sorely missed, the effects of his love on Skow were present as he posted on Facebook:

“Zero part of me is thinking about putting a drug or a drink in to my system because I am filled with love. That is miraculous. Dogs are miraculous. They will extract the best version of you and serve as a constant lighthouse in the storm. I have never been so thankful to another living thing.”

Though the loss is a difficult one, Skow told PupJournal that it has also been an incredible learning experience — from learning about osteosarcoma and end-of-life procedures, to learning more about himself and where he is at spiritually. Even after the end, Marley is still teaching Skow the value of his life.

“I had never foreseen myself living longer than my dogs, and it has given me a whole new perspective on life. Now I’m thinking about things like starting a family, and of course — getting more dogs.”

Related: ‘Most Loving Dog Ever’ Teaches Shelter Volunteer How to Trust

Marley’s love also continues to live on in the legacy of Marley’s Mutts. His life has helped save not just Skow and thousands of dogs, but many other humans as well. The Pawsitive Change program pairs inmates at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with rescue dogs for “mutual rehabilitation.

Prisoners train these dogs to pass the rigorous Canine Good Citizen Test, and the dogs provide a bonding experience that opens up a softer, more loving side in many of these inmates.

prison dog

Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

The Miracle Mutts program provides hundreds of hours of therapy to a host of individuals in the community, as well as education and inspiration — all through using their certified therapy rescue dogs.

They visit schools, elderly residents, military veterans, and those with developmental disabilities. Miracle Mutts also works closely with recovering addicts at the Mission at Kern County, incorporating the dogs with their 12 step programs — inspired, no doubt, by Marley’s contributions to Skow’s sobriety.

dogs kids

Marley’s sibling Buddy during an educational program at the Shafter Youth Center. Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

So while it is never easy to lose a loved one, especially one whose effect was so profound, Marley has been the catalyst for nearly a decade of transformation in the lives of dogs and humans alike.

His loss has been deeply mourned in the community, but his love will live on with Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue. We at PupJournal offer our sincerest condolences on the loss of Marley.

dog ashes

Marley’s ashes, which were scattered in a few of his favorite places. Source: Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue / Facebook

Please be sure to follow Marley’s Mutts on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with their amazing stories. They are always in need of donations to continue rescuing as many dogs and helping as many humans as possible, so please consider contributing here.

You can also visit their website to see how you can get involved, and to check out the dogs that are available for adoption.

Header image via Marley’s Mutts Dog RescueRebecca Wuth