"Lucky" Lucca is a Marine Corps working dog who successfully led about 400 patrols through combat zones without once allowing a service member under her care to be injured by IEDs, even on the day she lost her leg to a secondary IED after finding the primary. She received the Dickin Medal, an award for animal valor, Apr. 5, 2016.
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham was her first handler. He deployed to Iraq with Lucca two times.
"She could see when I was getting kitted up for a mission, you could see her energy increase because she knew what time it was," Willingham said. "I put the searching harness on Luca and she knew it was game on."
Willingham later deployed with Lucca to Afghanistan and led 30 working dog and handler teams. When Willingham was sent to a new duty station, he asked one of his handlers, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, to take over as Lucca's handler.
It was on Lucca and Rodriguez's second deployment to Afghanistan that Lucca lost her leg. She had indicated the presence of one IED and Rodriguez showed the explosive ordnance team where it was. Lucca was looking for more IEDs when Rodriguez heard a loud boom and saw dust erupt under Lucca. Lucca immediately tried to return to Rodriguez.
"I see Lucca trying to get up and attempting to run towards me," Rodriguez said. "At this point I took the same path she already had cleared and ran towards Lucca. I picked her up and started running towards the treeline."
Rodriguez placed a tourniquet on Lucca and the pair were medevacced out. Lucca had lost her paw at the blast site. Doctors later had to amputate the rest of her leg. It didn't keep her down for long.
"As soon as she woke up, she wanted to get up," Rodriguez said.
"She was so quick to adapt to having three legs that in a few days she was walking on her own."
Willingham adopted Lucca under Robbie's Law which gives handlers the first chance to adopt retired working dogs. When it came time to decide who would escort Lucca to where Willingham lived in Helsinki, Finland, Willingham immediately asked for Rodriguez.
In retirement, Lucca has experienced snow for the first time and gotten to play on the beach with the Willingham family. See Lucca in action and hear the full story from Willingham and Rodriguez in this video:
Lucca received the Dickin Medal, known as the animal version of the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is Britain's highest award for valor, the equivalent of the U.S. Medal of Honor.
Previous American recipients of the Dickin Medal include G.I. Joe, a pigeon who flew 20 miles in 20 minutes and prevented the accidental bombing of American troops, and Salty and Roselle, two guide dogs for the blind who got their humans out of the World Trade Center on 9/11.