April 5, 2016 10:51 am
Updated: April 6, 2016 8:12 pm

U.S. military dog that lost leg in Afghanistan awarded highest war medal for animals

WATCH: A courageous dog has received a special honour at a ceremony in London. The German Shepherd, named Lucca, served several tours with the U.S. marines in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her job was to sniff out explosives hidden in the battlefield. And as Jeff Semple reports, it almost cost her life.

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A retired U.S. Marine Corps dog that lost her leg in Afghanistan after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) received the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross for bravery during a ceremony on Tuesday.

Lucca, a 12-year-old German Shepherd, received the PDSA Dickin Medal from the U.K.’s leading veterinary charity for her bravery and service with the U.S. military during a ceremony in London, England.

The dog completed over 400 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during her six years of service.

Sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, poses with US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal at Wellington Barracks in London, England on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

While on her final patrol in March 2012 with her handler Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, Lucca discovered a 30lb IED. As she continued her search, a second device detonated. Lucca lost her front leg and suffered severe burns to her chest, neck and head as a result of the explosion.

“The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca. I ran to her and saw her struggling to get up,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “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.”

READ MORE: Last known living 9/11 rescue dog returns to NYC ahead of anniversary

The soldiers on patrol with Lucca were not injured in the blast.

The corporal said he stayed with Lucca throughout her surgery and recovery.

US Marine dog Lucca rests for photographers after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal at Wellington Barracks in London, England on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

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“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.

The Dickin Medal was first established by the charity’s founder Maria Dickin in 1943. It’s the highest award any military animal can receive for its service. Lucca is the 66th recipient of the award, and the first U.S. Marine Crops dog to receive the honour, the charity said.

“Lucca’s conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty makes her a hugely deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal,” Jan McLoughlin, the charity’s director general, said in a statement. “Her ability and determination to seek out arms and explosives preserved human life amid some of the world’s fiercest military conflicts.”

During the recovery process, paperwork was submitted to have Lucca retire from active service. She was adopted by Sergeant Chris Willingham, who also served with Lucca on several missions.

Sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, poses with retired US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal at Wellington Barracks in London, England on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

“Lucca is very intelligent, loyal and had an amazing drive for work as a search dog,” Willingham said. “She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her. In addition to her incredible detection capabilities, Lucca was instrumental in increasing morale for the troops we supported.”

Since 1943, 30 dogs, 32 Second World War messenger pigeons, three horses and a cat have received the Dickin Medal.

As for Lucca?

“Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement,” Willingham said.

WATCH: Retired U.S. Marine Corps dog receives the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross after losing a leg on patrol.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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