A bomb-sniffing German shepherd who lost her leg while protecting allied soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan was honored with the prestigious Dickin Medal.
The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity, announced Monday that Lucca, a 12-year-old U.S. Marine Corps dog, would receive the medal — considered the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross — for protecting the lives of thousands of allied troops during six years of active service in the Middle East. She completed more than 400 missions, and there were no human casualties on her patrols.
“Her role was to clear the path when they were on foot, and she was often deployed to go ahead of the particular corps or battalion to check for explosives or arms,” Deryck Wilson, a spokesman for PDSA, said in an interview with Yahoo News.
On March 23, 2012, Lucca lost her front left leg and suffered burns to her chest, neck and head while searching for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan. Ahead of a foot patrol, she found a weapons cache hidden in a haystack in a poppy field and later discovered a 30-pound IED, which was cleared. But a second IED went off when she was looking for additional dangers in their way. No soldiers were injured in the explosion.
“The explosion was huge, and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca. I ran to her and saw her struggling to get up. I picked her up and ran to the shelter of a nearby tree line; applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called the medics to collect us,” her handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, said in a news release.
Lucca was evacuated to Germany and then to Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in California, where her recovery was completed. Rodriguez stayed by her side throughout the entire recovery, saying she had saved his life many times so he had to be there for her.
According to PDSA, she was walking again within 10 days of the blast and now lives in California with Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham, who had trained Lucca and served with her during two tours in Iraq. He credits Lucca with being the only reason he was able to return home to his family and said she helped boost the troops’ morale.
“In between missions, I took the searching harness off and let her play and interact with the troops,” Willingham said in the release. “Due to her personality, demeanor and proficiency as a search dog, Lucca made friends wherever she went. Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement.”
Maria Dickin, the founder of PDSA, instituted the medal in 1943. The charity says Lucca is the first U.S. Marine Corps dog to receive the Dickin Medal. In late December, PDSA posthumously awarded it to a French police dog named Diesel, who died in the terrorist attacks in Paris the previous month.
“Since her rehabilitation, she’s taken on more of an ambassadorial role and is involved in school and community visits,” Wilson said. “She still does her bit and plays her part. She’s not exposed to danger anymore. She’s exposed to a great deal of affection and kids wanting to cuddle her, which apparently she thoroughly enjoys as well.”