An American Marine who lost her leg while locating explosives in Afghanistan received a prestigious award last Tuesday — and she’s wagging her tail about it.
Lucca, a retired German Shepherd who served with the US Marine Corps, lost her leg while hunting for IEDs on one of the 400 missions she went on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Almost half a decade after her wound, British animal charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) has awarded the 12-year-old German Shepherd with the Dickin Medal, considered the military animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross.
“Lucca is very intelligent, loyal and had an amazing drive for work as a search dog,” said Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham, Lucca’s owner. “She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her.”
Lucca was tasked with sniffing out explosives on over 400 missions, maintaining a near-perfect safety record. Despite being wounded herself, no human casualty ever occurred while she was on patrol.
The K-9 was wounded in 2012 while on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, under the care of her other handler, CPL Juan Rodriguez. She lost a leg and suffered severe burns all over her body.
“The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca,” Rodriguez said in the PDSA’s statement. “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.”
“She had saved my life on so many occasions — I had to make sure that I was there for her when she needed me,” Rodriguez said.
Lucca’s Dickin Medal is one of uncommon valor in the UK. Since 1943, only 30 other dogs have received the award. Other animals have received the medal as well, including 32 messenger pigeons, three horses, and a cat.
Now retired, Lucca lives a happy life in California with her former handler, Chris Willingham and his family.
“Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement,” Willingham said.
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