Rose Parade float represents military dog monument

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. He later escorted her to her first handler, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, 33, whom Lucca now lives with in spoiled retirement.

A decade ago Lucca would have probably been euthanized after her service. Once considered simply “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.

Trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where a $15 million veterinary hospital is devoted to treating dogs working for the military and law enforcement, thousands of canines have been sent overseas since 1942. Over the years, many have been left behind as excess equipment.

Then in 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a law allowing retired soldiers and civilians to adopt the dogs after their deployments.

“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.

Burnam, who will also be riding on the float, served in the Vietnam War and wrote a first-person account of working with Clipper, a front-line scout dog. Clipper never came back to the U.S.

Burnam’s story inspired Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., who introduced legislation for a national monument. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, and President Barack Obama later authorized Burnam’s foundation to build and maintain the monument.

The monument, regal bronze statues of a Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Labrador retriever and Belgian Malinois leading a dog handler on patrol, cost about $1.2 million. It was funded solely by grants and donations led by sponsors Natural Balance, Petco and Maddie’s Fund.

Natural Balance President Joey Herrick, whose company is known for Rose Parade floats boasting the firm’s mascot Tillman the bulldog – who has surfed, skateboarded and snowboarded on various floats – was inspired to take on a more serious design this year.

“I’m so proud of this float,” Herrick said. “This is not trying to set a Guinness record; this is honoring our soldiers. We have handlers and dogs who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

More in Local News

Everett pastor’s life was inspired by Rev. Billy Graham

The first crusade Brian Harpell ever attended was when the Christian evangelist came to his hometown.

Water to be shut off for some homes, districts next week

The pipe closing will affect mainly the Snohomish and Monroe areas.

Spikes put end to ride from Seattle to Everett in stolen car

Two men were taken into custody at the bottom of Marine View Drive off I-5.

Section of W. Marine View Drive will be closed Saturday

A footbridge is being torn down between Everett Ave. and the Naval Station entrance.

Fugitive Watch

The state Department of Corrections’ Everett office has felony warrants for the… Continue reading

House passes ban on bump-fire stocks

If the Senate approves, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign it into law.

Election results are finalized for school tax measures

More than 135,000 ballots were cast, a turnout of about 31 percent.

Bicyclist suffers critical injuries in crash

A trooper says the man was not wearing a helmet.

Front Porch

EVENTS Series on mental health wraps up Sno-Isle Libraries’ “Issues that Matter”… Continue reading

Most Read