Rose Parade float to honor military working dogs

The Tournament of Roses Parade is a New Years staple; the city of Pasadena, California comes alive with the procession of elaborate floats made of steel, chicken wire, and thousands upon thousands of colorful blooms.

An artist’s rendering of what the Canine’s with Courage float will look like. (Photo Credit: Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc.)

But this year, a special float will make its parade debut. Canines with Courage, a float modeled after the U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument, will honor our nation’s brave Military Working Dogs and their dedicated handlers.

The grand float measures 55-feet long and 28-feet high, and includes a “folding” feature that will allow the float to shrink down to 28-feet by 16-feet, making it easier to pass beneath highway bridges and low wires. To recreate the official bronze monument, the replica on the float has been made from golden clover seeds on crushed white sweet rice. More than 35,000 roses will adorn the Canines with Courage float.

Four dog and handler teams will be onboard the float to represent the Air Force, the Army and the Marines.

One of the dogs, Belgian MalinoisGerman Shepherd mix Lucca, still bears the scars from her time served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Nine months ago, Lucca was on the job in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb exploded beneath her feet. Her front left paw was completely destroyed in the blast, and the rest of that leg had to be amputated.

But to her handlers, Corporal Juan Rodriguez and Marine Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham, Lucca will always be a hero. Both servicemen feel privileged to stand alongside their comrade on four—make that three—legs.

“She’s loving the attention; Lucca deserves it,” Cpl. Rodriguez tells the Los Angeles Times. Rodriguez explains that, without Lucca, he would likely be dead. Lucca saved Rodriguez and a group of soldiers by sniffing out the booby trap that took her leg.

“She’s a very special dog,” Willingham says. “She’s saved a lot of lives.” Lucca, who might have once been considered mere military equipment and would have likely been euthanized after her service, is now enjoying retirement as a happy member of Willingham’s family.

“She served in the Marine Corps for six years, which included two deployments to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan. She’s trained to search all fleets looking for explosives. She led over 400 patrols, which resulted in zero injuries,” Willingham tells CBS Los Angeles.

Joey Herrick, president of pet-food company and Canines with Courage float sponsor Natural Balance, is thrilled to be able to honor our nation’s military heroes.

“I’m so proud of this float,” Herrick says. “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.”

Natural Balance has also donated 400 tickets to the Rose Parade for military personnel and their families so they can enjoy the festivities.

Also set to join the fun on the Canines with Courage float is famous Bulldog Tillman, who is best known for his skateboarding and surfing skills. According to the Pasadena Patch, Tillman has been named an Honorary Marine for his work promoting the U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument.

Retired Marine Robert Harr, 86, will join Lucca and others on the float New Years Day, an honor that he doesn’t take lightly. Harr trained World War II’s most decorated Pacific theater Military Working Dog, German Shepherd Oki. After the conflict ended, Harr smuggled Oki back to the states, where the hero dog lived out the rest of his days truly loved. Though Oki passed away in 1958, Harr still visits his beloved partner’s grave every year on Oki’s birthday.

“My family,” Harr says of the dogs—and his Oki—tears in his eyes, “I’ll be with them.”

The U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument is set to make its debut in Pasadena’s Victory Park at the conclusion of the parade before embarking on a national viewing tour that will run through the summer of 2013. The official dedication will take place in October at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, home of the 341st Training Squadron for Military Working Dog Teams and the new Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service Hospital.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, CBS Los Angeles, Pasadena Patch, TournamentofRoses.com, JBMF.us