Hooch the dog That's definitely the face of a hero. (Photo: Zach Skow/Facebook)

When Hooch showed up at an animal shelter in Bakersfield, California, the rescue workers didn't know what to do with him. The very skinny French mastiff had badly cropped ears and a broken tail, but an incredibly sweet spirit. He wouldn't eat or drink, and when it was meal time, he would wildly thrash his bowls around. They contacted Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue, a group known for taking in pups with special needs and those that have been abused or neglected.

Zach Skow, founder of the group, didn't hesitate to take him in. He found that the dog was 35 pounds underweight. He was dehydrated, malnourished and starving. Skow took Hooch to the vet, thinking maybe a broken jaw was causing his behavior and discovered something much more gruesome. Hooch's tongue had been removed at its base, maybe, Skow guesses, to punish him for barking or to prepare him for fighting.

The veterinarian attached a feeding tube to Hooch's neck which worked for about a month until the dog ripped it out. Gradually, Skow figured out how to feed his new buddy by hand. He mixes dry food with warm water, tilts Hooch's head back and slowly gives him small bits of kibble, letting gravity do the rest.

“Every now and then he’ll get some crunches in (with his teeth), and he likes that,” Skow told the "Today" show. “He’s definitely a goofball. He drools compulsively, like no other dog you’ve ever seen.”

Hooch's resilience in the face of adversity made him an obvious choice for American Humane’s 2016 American Hero Dog, which he won in mid-September. But it wasn't just his rough beginnings that made him a candidate.

Hooch's laid-back, loving attitude has made him the perfect therapy dog. He works with autistic, abused and special needs children. He also works with homeless people and works as a therapy dog in prisons with inmates who have a history of addiction.

Hooch the dog with a little girl in therapy Hooch works as a therapy dog, and he's especially good with little children. (Photo: Zach Skow/Facebook)

That's a subject close to Skow's heart.

In July 2008, he was diagnosed with end stage liver disease after years of alcohol abuse, and it was a real wake-up call. He says he felt like a "throwaway human," and felt like he wanted to make a different for "throwaway dogs" — the ones that are really difficult to place. So he started Marley's Mutts where he says, "The giant Mastiffs, the mangled and mangy mutts, the aggressive and the scared ... Marley’s Mutts would be a home (albeit a temporary one) for these 'undesirables.'"

Hooch the dog and Zach Skow When Skow first found Hooch, the dog was 35 pounds underweight — but not any more. (Photo: Zach Skow)

These days, Skow is healthy, and Hooch is happy — and even a little famous for the work he's doing. The American Hero Dog award included a donation of $7,500 to the charity Pets for Patriots, which pairs rescued shelter animals with veterans.

Hooch was overcome by all the noise and attention at the black-tie gala, so once things slowed down a week later, Skow taped a thoughtful acceptance speech, with a sleepy Hooch watching over his shoulder. You can see it in this touching video:

Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.