Earlier this week Lucca, bomb-sniffing U.S. Marine Corps German Shepard, was awarded the PDSA Dicken Medal. The medal is considered the world’s highest honour for a service dog. She is the first U.S. Marine service dog to receive the medal.
Lucca has completed over 400 missions, survived an IED blast and now joins an elite group of animals to receive the prestigious People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Dicken Medal.
The 12-year-old dog was first brought into the Marine Corps IED Detector Dog program and paired with Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham on April 23, 2006. The two completed two tours in Iraq together.
“Once me and her bonded we were a tough dog team to beat,” said Willingham in a PDSA video.
She was then placed in the care of Cpl. Juan Rodriguez and completed countless missions saving lives in Iraq and Afghanistan over a six-year career.
On March 23, 2012, Lucca and Cpl. Rodriguez were ahead of a foot patrol where the canine discovered a weapons cache and, later, a 30 lb. pressure plate IED. Resuming the patrol, Lucca was sent to clear a path when a 30 lb. pressure plate IED detonated underneath her. Cpl. Rodriguez immediately applied a tourniquet and Medical Evacuation team was called in.
“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. I stayed with her constantly throughout her operation and her recovery. She had saved my life on so many occasions – I had to make sure that I was there for her when she needed me,” said Rodriquez in a press release.
The German Shepard lost her front left leg and suffered burns to her chest but recovered quickly.
“Through all of her treatment and despite the pain she was in, her temperament never changed. Her fighting spirit was plain to see, and I was so proud of how quickly she recovered,” recalled Rodriquez.
Lucca was adopted by Willingham, her original handler, soon after.