Although they’re often portrayed on TV and in the movies, it can be hard to fully appreciate just how brave, courageous, and heroic a search and rescue (or SAR) dog can be.
During a hot summer day in 2016, an elderly man who was stuck in the mud and desperate for help was saved by a very unlikely hero. In this case, it was a German Shepard named Luca.
Two elderly men decided to visit a large salvage yard in Texas to look for car parts. After a little bit of time in the Texas sun, one of the men realized that his friend, who suffered from dementia, had disappeared.
After a brief search for his friend with no luck, he became worried and called the police to help with the search.
After some time looking for the gentleman, dozens of officers and helicopters banded together in the area to search for the missing man.
They feared he had gotten confused and possibly had forgotten where he was when he wandered off due to his dementia.
Given the hot Texas temperatures and the time that had passed, he could be at risk of heat stroke. After an extensive search to no avail, the police knew they needed the skills and expertise of their long-time furry friend.
Although the German Shepherd, Luca, was already retired by this time, his reputation as an amazing Search and Rescue dog was unmatched.
His handler, Cole, was confident that Luca was up to the task given his track record. According to The Spruce Pets, Search and rescue dogs are disciplined, life-saving canines that are sharply trained to spring into action in the case of a crisis situation, whether it’s identifying human remains, finding a missing child, or seeking out evidence to help solve a crime.
Along with their highly-trained handlers, SAR dogs are working dogs that are prepared to assist in emergencies in any environment, from the wilderness to the city.
Luca was an incredible search and rescue dog for many years before he retired. He excelled in area, water, avalanche, and forest/desert searches.
He went on hikes in the mountains, rode ski lifts and snowmobiles through the winter weather, and flew to deserts on helicopters to carry out his lifesaving work.
All the traveling and long days began to take their toll on the big dog, which is why Cole retired Luca when he was nine years old.
“Officer Brock had trained Luca to follow human scent and, knowing that each minute that ticked away decreased the chances of a successful recovery, went to his home nearby and picked up Luca. He and Luca then scoured the area until the missing man was found,” Fort Worth PD said on Facebook.
As they roamed the salvage yard, Luca fell back into his training easily. When the Search and Rescue team came across an opening of brush leading to a very steep drop-off down to the Trinity River, Luca made a distinctive alert.
The Trinity River is a 710-mile-long river and is the longest river with a watershed entirely within the U.S. state of Texas. The river rises in extreme northern Texas, a few miles south of the Red River. According to Trinityara, the headwaters are separated by the high bluffs on the south side of the Red River.
Although Cole could not see anything, Luca made it very clear that this is where the team had to go. Due to the rough terrain, the helicopter on site responded and immediately observed the lost man knee-deep in the river.
He was on the opposite side of the bank from where Luca alerted. The high, fast-paced water threatened to push the man down, and because he was stuck in the mud, he had no leverage.
The officers quickly shed their gear and swam across the river to bring the man to safety. It was because of Luca that this man was found less than eight hours after he disappeared, saving him from drowning or hypothermia.
Luca proved that once you are a hero, you are forever a hero. Luca’s love and dedication to Search and Rescue portray the resilience of older dogs and their amazing intelligence.
In 2017, Luca was honored as the Search and Rescue Hero Dog of the Year in the Hero Dog Awards.
“Luca’s love and dedication to SAR shows the resilience of older dogs and how training doesn’t go away just because they retire,” his bio on the Hero Dog Awards page states.