Zach Skow can often be found chilling in a party bus filled with excited rescue dogs, traveling the country to share the importance of caring for and respecting animals.
But 10 years ago, Skow, then 28, was in a much different place.
“Ten years ago I had end stage liver disease and less than 90 days to live without a liver transplant,” Skow tells PEOPLE.
A long battle with addiction had left Skow disconnected from the frail, sickly man he saw in the mirror.
“I had a tough time being awake in my own skin,” he remembers of those darker days.
Unable to get a liver transplant and heal unless he was sober, Skow searched for a reservoir of strength to help him fight for a better life.
“My dogs were all looking at me like I was the sexiest man alive. They didn’t see the desperation, they just saw they person that they love,” Skow says of his three rescue dogs at the time. “They were looking forward to a future.”
On that day, Skow decided to get better for his dogs. With three months to live, Skow set a goal to stay sober and focused on his health for six months.
With help from “his pack” and his dad, Skow started to exercise regularly, eat healthy and cut drugs and alcohol out of his life.
As Skow puts it: “I let my dogs do the steering.”
HIs canines steered their owner to an amazing place.
“I would go in every week for a blood test and I just kept getting better,” Skow says. “My doctors kept looking at me with these puzzled looks on their faces.”
Eventually, Skow’s health returned to a place where he no longer needed a liver transplant to survive.
After this miraculous recovery from the brink, he committed the rest of his time to making the lives of his lifesavers better.
With help from his community, Skow started Marley’s Mutts, a non-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates, trains and re-homes death row dogs from high-kill centers in Kern County, California.
Marley’s Mutts has gone on to save more than 5,000 animals and has also expanded to include Miracle Mutts, a community outreach and education endeavor designed to empower both dogs and people to live happy, healthy and productive lives.
Through this program, Skow seeks to help shelter dogs and those humans he believes often go overlooked by society — people similar to the man he was 10 years ago.
Miracle Mutts places shelter dogs with incarcerated inmates for training. The program also provides therapy dog visits to those who can benefit from a non-judgmental canine connection, whether it be veterans, cancer patients, individuals with autism or just a group of children in need of a dog hug.
“What I have found is my purpose,” Skow says of his journey. “I am a professional dog rescuer and people saver. I rescue dogs to rescue people.”
To spread the magic of rescue dogs even further, Skow is being featured in Jockey’s inspiring brand campaign “Show ‘Em What’s Underneath, Show ‘Em Your Jockey,” dedicated to recognizing everyday heroes who inspire others to be courageous, caring and resilient.
Skow hopes his stripping down gets even more recognition for rescue dogs.
“I really hope people will look into giving a dog a second chance,” he says. “Rescue dogs know, they carry with them immeasurable amounts of love.”
For those who have already rescued a pet but still may be feeling down, Skow has these words of hope: “Be yourself. Be who you are underneath. Trust who you are is wonderful and be the person your dog sees.”