Lucca (dog)

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Homeward bound Lucca retires 120702-M-KW153-143.jpg
Lucca with her handler, Cpl Juan M Rodriguez
BreedGerman Shepherd/
Belgian Malinois
DiedJanuary 20, 2018[1]
EmployerUnited States Marine Corps
Notable roleDogs in warfare / Detection dog
Years active6
AwardsPDSA Dickin Medal BAR.svg Dickin Medal

Lucca was a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois service dog who was employed by the United States Marine Corps for 6 years. She was trained to detect explosives. She was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. In her over 400 missions, no human fatalities occurred under her watch. In 2012, while on patrol in Afghanistan, she was injured by an IED blast, necessitating the amputation of her left leg. After recovering at Camp Pendleton, Lucca officially retired in 2012 and was adopted by her original handler, Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham.

On 5 April 2016, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a veterinary charity in the United Kingdom, awarded Lucca the Dickin Medal.[2] It is considered to be the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, and was the 67th time that the medal has been awarded.[2][3][4][5][6] This was the first time a U.S. Marine Corps dog was awarded this honour.[7][8][9] Lucca also received an unofficial Purple Heart plaque and ribbons from a two-time Marine recipient of the award.[10]

Military career[edit]

Lucca was born in the Netherlands. The Israel Defense Forces brought her to Israel and she trained there for six months with an American team. She was then inducted at Lackland in the United States and brought to the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona for training in an environment similar to Iraq.[11] She served two tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps during her six years of service. During that time, she completed more than 400 missions. She was trained as a specialized search dog, and belonged to an elite group of canines capable of working off-leash at long distances from their handlers in dangerous situations. On her missions, no humans accompanying her were ever injured.[12][5] Specifically, the dog’s record of military service included Afghanistan with more than 400 patrols and three combat tours in Iraq. She was credited with finding ammunition, explosives and insurgents at least 40 times, without a single human fatality under her watch.[8][9]

The PDSA noted that she protected thousands of human lives as part of her assignments. On her last mission in 2012, when she was on patrol in Afghanistan, she sniffed out a 30-pound (13.6-kilogram) IED and was continuing her search when she lost one of her legs when another IED detonated underneath her.[2] Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, her handler, thought she had been killed, but was able to rescue her.[13][14] He administered first aid, and Lucca was then airlifted to Germany for medical treatment and rehabilitation. Ten days after the explosion, she was walking again. Following her recovery from her injury, Lucca was retired. She lived in California with Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham and his family.[15]

According to Amy Dickin, the dispensary's spokesperson, the award of the Dickin Medal to Lucca garnered more "public attention than any other Dickin Medal honoree in the program's 73-year history."[8] In November 2019 Lucca became one of the first winners of the Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery, bestowed posthumously on her in a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.[16]

The story of Lucca's life has been turned into a book, Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca by Maria Goodavage.[15]

Lucca died on January 20, 2018.[1]



  1. ^ a b "Lucca K458". Facebook.
  2. ^ a b c "War-wounded military dog awarded charity medal". BBC News. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Lucca the heroic three-legged war dog wins medal" (Video). The Guardian. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  4. ^ Wakefield, Jessica (5 April 2016). "Adorable military dog, Lucca, who lost leg in combat gets medal for bravery" (Video). Irish Independent. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b Heywood, Victoria (5 April 2016). "PDSA Dickin Medal for Hero Girl Lucca". Dogs Monthly. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  6. ^ Ryder, Bradley (8 August 2016). "Dogs In The News: Mountain Dog Thought 'Dead' Miraculously Lives, German Shephard Receives Medal For Bravery". Retrieved 23 January 2018. According to the PDSA website, Lucca’s award was bestowed "for tireless service to the military communities of the United States of America and coalition partners from 2006 to 2012.
  7. ^ "PDSA Dickin Medal for Lucca". PDSA. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Phan, Hieu Tran (11 April 2016). "How Marine dog Lucca made history". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  9. ^ a b "U.S. Marine Corps Honors Dog for Wartime Bravery" (Video). CBS. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  10. ^ Carpenter, Rhonda (21 October 2014). "Book Review – Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca". Defense Media Network. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  11. ^ Goodavage 2015, pp. 13, 22–23.
  12. ^ Goodavage 2015, p. 9.
  13. ^ Lucca the Marine dog receives medal for service CNN, 5 April 2016
  14. ^ US Marine Corps dog named Lucca who saved lives wins prize Fox News, 5 April 2016
  15. ^ a b Kyung Kim, Eun. "Handlers of retired Marine hero, bomb-sniffing dog give thanks for animal's duty". Today. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  16. ^ The Washington Post, "New animal bravery medal honors heroic dogs, pigeons and horse," Nov. 18 2019 [1]


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