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.
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.
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.
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!”
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. After Skow’s liver transplant, he began to feel better and get more involved by fostering dogs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.