By Sara Ost, Deputy Editor
“I’m in love, love, love with rescue,” says Marley’s Mutts founder and December’s Man We Love, Zach Skow.
We’re chatting via Zoom, as one does in 2020, and our video conversation includes a very special guest star; no, not Skow, but Miss Cora Rose, a vivacious, tiny double-amputee rescue dog who has been an integral member of the visionary’s family circle for three years now.
Skow may be famous for his collaboration and leadership in animal welfare, but at the moment, Cora Rose is the star of the show. She does important work: Helping to acclimate new rescue dogs at Marley’s Mutts, as well as provide rehabilitation therapy to California state prisoners as a part of the organization’s groundbreaking Pawsitive Change initiative.
“I’ve seen her change the entire mood in a maximum security prison,” says Skow. Though saving, rather than euthanizing, such a shattered dog was far from the norm just a few years ago, Skow shares that Cora Rose is a “beacon of light” who has truly come into her power as a double-amputee. “She is happiness personified,” he says. The key is that she’s learned to accept herself just as she is, and this joyous energy is infectious. As Skow himself knows at the most profound level, self-acceptance—self-love—is essential for all creatures.
It was little more than a decade ago that Skow, then only in his late twenties, was facing fatal organ failure. He had suffered from severe drug and alcohol dependency since his teens, and his liver was about to give out. He would need to be sober for six months to qualify for a liver transplant; his doctors did not think he would last even thirty days without a new one.
With the support of family, Skow began taking the steps toward what would be a miraculous recovery. It was Marley, the beloved family’s rottweiler-pit mix, who first assisted him on the daily walks that were a lifeline. (He at first had to wear sunglasses to disguise his jaundice.) Though Skow was always drawn to dogs and had volunteered for years with animals, it was this transformational experience that led him to found Marley’s Mutts.
In those days, the euthanasia rate was well over 80% in Kern County, California, where Skow hails from. He and his team set an audacious goal: to help Kern become a no-kill county entirely. “People thought we were lunatics,” he recounts. And yet today, the kill rate for animals in shelters in Kern County is well below 10%, a remarkable testament to the power of collective activism in service to the greater good.
According to the SPCA, over 670,000 dogs are euthanized each year in the United States because they have nowhere to go. It’s a heartbreaking statistic, but Skow is emphatic that if there is one silver lining to this trying year, it is the positive changes happening in animal welfare.
“Animal welfare has been disseminated to every reach of the world,” says Skow. “We are fundamentally shifting the paradigm to do what’s right for animals. After all, we’ve coexisted with dogs for 50,000 years. They are part of our family. It’s very hard to see our family members not being treated well.”
The growing ripple effect of animal rescue is due in large part, Skow believes, to social media (again a much-needed silver lining). Sites like The Dodo and scores of others have broadcast uplifting stories of animals being rescued and enjoying new and love-filled lives. It wasn’t really very long ago that most people didn’t even know what fostering or “rescue” meant when it came to dogs and all animals, notes Skow. Now, it’s commonly understood…and increasingly popular.
I ask what people can do, apart from liking and sharing online.
“For me the most important and uplifting thing is fostering,” says Skow. “It offers families purpose. You’re teaching your children that every life matters and has limitless potential. And we are just scratching the surface of the animal-human bond.”
Skow says our animal friends often get us in a way that we might feel our human family doesn’t. That incredible empathy is a big reason why dog therapy is so effective not only in rehabilitating those struggling with criminal or substance abuse issues, but every human. We all can benefit from the enhanced self-esteem that comes with caring for a creature that trusts us implicitly. In turn, the culture improves as we learn to connect and to serve.
Photos Courtesy of Zach Skow, Marley's Mutts
Watch the interview below: