A retired Marine Corps German shepherd named Lucca was awarded a top military medal after losing one of her legs while searching for homemade bombs in Afghanistan.
“More than four years after she was reduced to three paws, Lucca was awarded a top military medal for the 400 missions she completed during her service,” reports NBC News. “The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals — a British charity known as the PDSA — honored Lucca with its Dickin Medal during a ceremony at London’s Wellington Barracks on Tuesday.”
According to PDSA, the award is “the highest award any animal in the world can achieve while serving in military conflict” and has only been issued 66 times since 1943.
The dog’s owner, Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, who lives with Lucca in California, also attended the ceremony.
“Lucca is very intelligent, loyal and had an amazing drive for work as a search dog,” said the owner in a statement. “She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her.”
The charity revealed that Lucca completed 400-plus missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, sniffing out bombs and protecting “the lives of thousands of allied troops.”
During her patrols, there were no human fatalities.
Lucca was injured in March 2012 while on patrol with her other handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a traditional Taliban stronghold.
“The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca,” Rodriguez said in the charity’s statement. “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.”
“Lucca was evacuated to Germany and then to California’s Camp Pendleton,” notes NBC News. “Rodriguez stayed near her through each stage of recovery — even choosing to sleep side-by-side some nights.”
The German shepherd is 12 years old.
“Her role was to clear the path when they were on foot, and she was often deployed to go ahead of the particular corps or battalion to check for explosives or arms,” Deryck Wilson, a spokesman the British charity, told Yahoo News.