TOP DOG by Maria Goodavage


The Story of Marine Hero Lucca
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In this follow-up to Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes (2012), Goodavage gives the Marines and their canine companions equal billing.

The story begins with Marine dog handlers spending months learning about “off-leash dog handling,” a specialty of the Israeli military. The dogs would be employed to detect the IEDs being used against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The combination of a trained dog handler's ability to spot potential danger areas on the ground and the dog's prowess at sniffing explosives would prove to be formidable defense against these homemade bombs,” writes the author. The Marines and their dogs would be embedded with infantry, and due to the danger of their mission, the demands on man and dog were huge. Most important was the establishment of a trusting bond between them; any misstep or miscommunication by either could lead to a deadly explosion. The heroes of the story are Lucca, a German shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix who had been born in the Netherlands, and his two handlers. Petting, grooming, feeding, play “and just hanging out” comprised the routine in the months during which handlers and dogs developed a durable bond. An extended training period was necessary since the animals would be “follow[ing] their noses far more independently than leashed dogs.” Lucca’s first trainer and handler was Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham. When his two re-enlistments were completed, Lucca was reassigned to Cpl. Juan “Rod” Rodriguez. After a grievous injury that left him with only three legs, Lucca was released from military service but found a loving home with his first handler. “Over her career,” writes the author in this straightforward account, “she had protected untold numbers of soldiers and marines on four hundred missions with no injuries other than her own.” Lucca was awarded two Purple Hearts for her bravery in action.

A sentimental tale of man and dog and their heroism under fire.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0525954361
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014

Kirkus Interview
Maria Goodavage
October 24, 2016

Wherever the president goes, there will be dogs. They’ll be there no matter what the country or state. They’ll be there regardless of the political climate, the danger level, the weather, or the hour. Maria Goodavage’s new book Secret Service Dogs immerses readers in the heart of this elite world of canine teams who protect first families, popes, and presidential candidates: the selection of dogs and handlers, their year-round training, their missions around the world, and, most important, the bond—the glue that holds the teams together and can mean the difference between finding bombs and terrorists or letting them slip by. Secret Service Dogs celebrates the Secret Service’s most unforgettable canine heroes. It is a must-read for fans of Maria Goodavage, anyone who wants a rare inside view of the United States Secret Service, or just loves dogs. “Goodavage’s subjects and their companions are quirky and dedicated enough to engage readers wondering about those dogs on the White House lawn,” our reviewer writes. View video >


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