Hooch arrived at Tehachapi-based Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue three years ago after having been abused and malnourished. His tongue had been cut out and his ears were badly cropped.

Now, after a journey of rehabilitation and forgiveness, the French Mastiff has received the 2016 Hero Dog Award from the American Humane Association.

"It's been crazy," Marley's Mutts founder Zach Skow said. "I don't know who entered him (into the competition) but it just kind of took off."

Despite the abuse and neglect Hooch suffered, he is now one of the most loving dogs you will meet, Skow said. But it took time for him to be rehabilitated.

"The shelter called us because he wasn't eating or drinking," Skow said. "He weighed 43 pounds and it wasn't until we took him to the vet for X-rays that we found out he had no tongue."

"It's just not something you think to look for; all dogs have tongues," he added.

The fact that Hooch can be so loving after the abject abuse he experienced is part of why he received the award.

"There is something in dogs that allows them to love again," said Mari Harner, program manager of the Hero Dog Awards. "And Hooch exemplifies that unconditional love."

Hooch works as a therapy dog, helping autistic children who are non-verbal, as well as prisoners and homeless people with histories of addiction, Skow said.

A total of 173 dogs across the country were nominated for the Hero Dog Award, Harner said. That number was narrowed to eight dogs, each with their own categories such as service, therapy, guide/hearing and emerging hero.

Hooch was the finalist for the emerging hero dog award, but also went on to win the national title.

"The competition focuses on the dog's story," Harner said. "And I think Hooch's story touched so many people because of how he made a turnaround."

By winning both awards, Hooch earned a total of $7,500 in donations to Pets for Patriots, an organization that pairs rescued shelter animals with veterans.

The award ceremony, which took place Sept. 10, will air on the Hallmark Channel Oct. 28.

"Hooch is such an amazing dog and we have such a big following that I'm not surprised that he was nominated for something," Skow said. "But I was sure surprised that he won, and that he won the whole thing."

Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue is a nonprofit dog rescue organization that rehabilitates, trains and finds homes for dogs from high-kill animal shelters in Kern County.