Two dogs are featured in the Rose Parade today. One of them, Chuck, will be with conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, who’s serving as the Grand Marshall this year.
Chuck is a five-year-old shepherd mix who’s living at Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Los Angeles, and is looking for a good new home. (Any doubt he’ll get one after his ride today?!)
The other is Lucca, also a shepherd mix, who will be riding with Cpl. Juan Rodriguez. Lucca is a veteran of three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Rodriguez says he owes his life to her. On her last deployment she sniffed out a booby trap and set off a bomb that injured her and took one of her legs.
A few years ago, dogs like Lucca and Chuck had little chance of survival. As a homeless shepherd mix – one of the millions that crowded animal shelters across the country – Chuck would have had no more than a few days to be claimed by his person (if he ever had one) and a few more days to be adopted. Then he’d be killed.
And Lucca would most likely have been killed, too. As a piece of surplus government property – and considered unsuitable to be placed in a home, even with her handler – she’d have been destroyed. Or just abandoned – literally, walked away from and left behind like any other piece of surplus equipment, to fend for herself in a war zone.
But in 2000, President Clinton signed a law allowing retired soldiers and civilians to adopt the dogs after their deployments. And today Lucca and her handlers will be riding a float celebrating the work of dogs in the military.
“She’s loving the attention; Lucca deserves it,” Rodriguez (photo right with Lucca) told reporters as he lifted the dog onto the float in a rehearsal before leading her back to her first handler, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, 33, with whom Lucca now lives with in a very happy retirement.
Joining Lucca on the float today is 86-year-old retired Marine Robert Harr, who trained Oki, the most decorated war dog in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war, Harr smuggled Oki back home. Later the secret got out, but Oki lived with Harr until he died in 1958. He was buried with full military services in Newport Beach, and Harr still visits there every year on Oki’s birthday.
Thousands of dogs like Lucca have been deployed overseas as conscripts since 1942. Most of them never returned. Nor, indeed, did they choose to go in the first place. Bomb sniffing dogs and search-and-rescue dogs are bred or chosen for their high prey drive. They love chasing things, and so for them, ironically, war is a game of find the bomb, get a treat … until one of the bombs goes off and they lose their leg … or their life … or are left behind.
Given the choice, Lucca would probably choose to go on deployment. Dogs cast their lot with humans a long time ago when they teamed up with us to join in the hunt for food. And while more than three million of them still die in shelters in this country every year, and billions more around the world, in shelters if they’re taken in and on the streets if they’re not, the human-dog bond endures.
Lucca will be celebrated as a hero today. But in many ways she’s more of a victim – a victim of our very human lust for war.
And dogs are not the only animals we rope into our wars. From the horses who pulled our chariots and carried our cavalry, to the pigs who are shot with guns or explosives in laboratories so that military doctors can practice trying to save their lives (their skin is very similar to ours), animals of all kinds have been conscripted to our wars.
(See our Special Report: When Animals Are Drafted)
Lucca and Chuck will have their day today – each a symbol of the bond we humans have with dogs. For the dogs, it’s unconditional; for the humans, not always so much.
(See also a video of Jane Goodall with Chuck here.)