A wounded military dog was flown to London to receive the highest animal war award after having served alongside the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lucca, a12-year-old German Shepherd, was honored on Tuesday with the Dickin Medal at Wellington Barracks. The award is comparable to the Victoria Cross, which is the highest military acknowledgement for valor "in the face of adversity."
According to a press release, Lucca served 6 years of active duty, completing over 400 separate missions. She was trained as a specialized search dog, and was considered an extraordinary success in sniffing out improvised explosive devices.
Under her patrol, there was never a human casualty, including in the blast that caused Lucca to lose her leg.
She was searching for explosives in Afghanistan, when one detonated. Lucca immediately lost one of her front legs in the blast.
"The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca," her handler Corporal Juan Rodriguez said in a press statement. "She had saved my life on so many occasions – I had to make sure that I was there for her when she needed me.”
Cpl. Rodriguez said he then performed emergency first aid, treating her front leg as well as her chest, neck and head, which had suffered severe burns.
She was then evacuated from Afghanistan to Germany, and finally back to the Marine Corps Base in Camp Pendleton, California. Cpl. Rodriguez never left her side, and even chose to sleep with her through her recovery, the press statement reported.
Lucca was up and running 10 days later, but was filed to retire during recovery.
Since her final patrol on March 23, 2012, the German Shepherd has been enjoying retirement in California, where she lives with Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham.
GySgt. Willingham served with Lucca on two tours in Iraq, in 2007 and 2008. He was Lucca's original handler, until Lucca was deployed to Afghanistan.
"She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her," GySgt. Willingham said in the press statement. "Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement.”
Lucca will be the 30th dog to receive the Dickin Award since its conception in 1943 by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, a leading veterinary charity in the U.K.
The award has also been previously presented to 32 World War II pigeons, three horses, and one cat.