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10 Reasons to Love This 3-Legged Marine Hero

[I originally wrote this for Dogster.com. It's reprinted here with permission.]

Marine dog Lucca is my hero. The German shepherd-Malinois mix led more than 400 missions during three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and no one she served with ever got hurt. Lucca’s job was to sniff out IEDs and other deadly explosives, which she was trained to do off leash. She found plenty, saving countless lives. But the last one found her first.

Lucca lost her left front leg and retired after a lifetime of selfless service. She now lives the good life with her original handler and his family in Southern California. Sometimes her second handler visits from the Midwest, and the two handlers “co-parent” Lucca. It’s heartwarming to watch Lucca with her two favorite men in the world at her side.

There are so many reasons to love this three-legged Marine hero. Here are 10 of them, complete with photos.

1. She has your back when you need it

(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez)
(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez)

Lucca faithfully protects her second handler, Juan “Rod” Rodriguez, while on deployment with Special Forces in Afghanistan. She wasn’t trained to do this. She just did it.

2. She works like a dog to save her people from bombs

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Lucca and her legendary nose get the lay of the land in Baghdad on her first combat deployment, with handler Chris Willingham. Even now, in retirement, she sometimes checks out places for bombs for old time’s sake.

3. She knows when to take a hand from a friend…

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Willingham keeps up his end of a pact he made with Lucca after a grueling morning in Iraq.

4. …Literally

4-lucca-gets-hand
(Photo by Chris Willingham)

It’s a long story involving a triple amputee who threw Lucca his prosthetic hand at Walter Reed National Military Center because he liked her. It bounced like a Kong. What else was she supposed to do?

5. She looks fabulous no matter what she wears

(Photo by Chris Willingham)
(Photo by Chris Willingham)

Lucca looks almost proud to be wearing handler Chris Willingham’s shirt during some down time on their second deployment to Iraq, doesn’t she? Her then “boyfriend,” Posha, looks like he’s not quite so sure about his outfit.

6. And if she doesn’t, she doesn’t care

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Wonky Doggles? Not a problem for Lucca, who is always up for a laugh and a wag.

7. She fights through adversity

(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez.)
(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez.)

Lucca starts on the road to recovery after a top surgical team consisting of veterinarians and “human” doctors amputated her leg because of the damage inflicted by the IED. Two days after surgery, she was walking unaided. Because she’s just that kind of dog.

8. And thrives on new missions now

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Lucca’s missions have changed since her retirement. When she accompanies Willingham, who adopted her, to schools and veterans/military hospitals, it’s hard to tell who enjoys the visits more — Lucca or those she’s visiting.

9. She savors each day

(Photo by Chris Willingham)
(Photo by Chris Willingham)

Lucca is a genuinely happy dog who seems to see the best in everything and everyone. Here, the contented legend enjoys her well-deserved 10th birthday celebration with her loving family.

10. And lives life to the fullest…Always

(Photo by Ariel Peldunas)
(Photo by Ariel Peldunas)

We can all learn a lot from this beautiful hero. She’s a great inspiration to me. I hope she will be to you, too.