LOS ANGELES: In a cavernous warehouse on a recent weekday, Rose Parade volunteers were busy painting and clipping flowers as they rushed to complete their float in time for New Year’s Day festivities. But all activity paused when the star of the decorated stage arrived.
With a Marine corporal in tow, Lucca, a German shepherd-Malinois mix, hopped curiously toward a group of excited children. Her head dipped from the weight of her body, no longer supported by her amputated left leg.
It’s been nine months since Lucca lost her paw to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. A veteran of three combat deployments, she is one of thousands of U.S. military working dogs trained to sniff out booby traps, deliver messages and track enemies. She has led more than 200 missions, with no Marine ever injured under her patrol.
When the 124th Rose Parade kicks off the new year on Tuesday, Lucca and her handlers will be riding a float celebrating the decades of service by her kind. The float, titled Canines with Courage and sponsored by Natural Balance Pet Foods, was inspired by the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument that will be dedicated later next year in San Antonio.
Four handlers and their dogs, representing the Air Force, Army and Marines, will also escort the float, built by Fiesta Parade Floats.
“She’s loving the attention; Lucca deserves it,” said Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, 23, laughing as he lifted the dog onto the float. Rodriguez says he owes his life to her, recalling when she sniffed out a booby trap and set off the bomb that took her leg.
A decade ago Lucca would have likely been euthanized after her service. Once considered “government equipment” and too dangerous to return to domestic life, U.S. military working dogs have only recently been recognized by the general public for their role in every war since World War II.
“We’ve come a long way. It was a lot of hard work, but it’s important they all get recognized,” said John Burnam, president of the foundation that established the national monument, which is scheduled to be completed by October 2013.