by Laura Berthold Monteros
I originally posted this article in 2012. I’m reposting it today, in honor of our four-legged veterans and the men and women who trained and worked them. Be sure to check out the album below.
Natural Balance Pet Foods is known for Rose Parade floats that push the envelope—world’s longest, world’s heaviest—with dogs who skateboard, skimboard, surf, and ski board. The 2013 Rose Parade will see something very different from Natural Balance.
“Canines with Courage” honors military working dogs who have often gone to war and saved the lives of American troops. The float, built by Fiesta Parade Floats, is a replica of the Military Working Dogs National Monument that will be erected at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in late 2013. Currently the statues are touring the county, and will be on display at the post-Rose Parade Showcase of Floats.
On Friday, we caught up with a few of the riders who will be on “Canines with Courage” on Jan. 1, 2013.
Robert Harr served in the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team that was attached to the Marines—“It’s called the SEALS today,” he said—and handled the most decorated dog of World War II. The dogs operated behind enemy lines in the Pacific Theater, sniffing out the enemy. The operations were highly secret. “We never knew where we were going,” Harr said.
“The dog saved 150 lives,” he said, and served on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. “His name was Rex, but after Iwo Jima and Okinawa, people started calling him ‘that Oki dog.’” He lived to be 16 and met President Harry S. Truman at one point. “The dog didn’t like Truman,” Harr laughed.
Robert Harr will be riding on the float with two other handlers we spoke with, Gy. Sgt. Christopher Willingham and Cpl. Juan Rodriguez (Marines). Both handled the 2012 Hero Dog Lucca, a German Shepherd/Malinois mix. Lucca is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Her record is spotless; no troops were lost or injured on her watch.
Her left front leg was burned so badly in a bomb blast that it had to be amputated, but her life was saved by Rodriguez, who applied a tourniquet and got her to safety. She now lives with Willingham, her first handler, and his family.
Lucca will be one of several military working dogs on “Canines with Courage,” joined by newly-minted honorary Private 1st Class Tillman, known for his athletic exploits on past Natural Balance floats.
The Military Working Dogs National Monument was signed into law by Congress and President George W. Bush and amended by President Barack Obama in 2009 to authorize the John Burnam Monument Foundation, Inc. to establish and maintain it. Donations may be made at www.jbmf.us.