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Book Review Top Dog The Story of Marine Hero Lucca 1

We're starting a new section – review of best books for dog owners! I have previously listed top 25 best dog books ever, and we've covered the topic of three best books for training your dog. But as I was looking through my library, I realized that there is more material out there, and this time, I prefer to review it more in-depth. So buckle up, let's dive in!

Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca is a true story about a German Shepherd named Lucca and her time of service as a K9 Marine in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all the heroic things this canine has accomplished.

Written by New York Times best-selling author of Soldier Dogs Maria Goodavage, the book has gained numerous appraisals and amazing reviews.

“Written like an adventure, with heart-pounding combat sequences, high tension, and suspense as well as moments of deep emotion and bonding, “Top Dog” is a must read for anyone who appreciates heroes of both the two-legged and four-legged kind.” – Stanley Coren, PhD

Book Review Top Dog The Story of Marine Hero Lucca 2
Lucca and her handler. Photo credit: philly.com

“…an absolutely fascinating and an accurate portrayal of the importance of military working dogs and their handlers on today's complex battlefield. The book is extremely well written and skillfully paints the picture of the passionate relationship between military working dog and its handler. It has my highest recommendations.” — Army Lieutenant General Rick Lynch

“An eye-opening account of the job these intelligent dogs and their courageous handlers do…[a] riveting title that is filled with excitement and heartbreak.” — Library Journal


Review of Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca

Book Review Top Dog The Story of Marine Hero Lucca
Top Dog (and that's Lucca's portrait)

Premise: The book tells a story of a highly-skilled, extraordinary and simply amazing military working dog by the name of Lucca, number K458, who is officially titled as a specialized Search Dog. You will go on a journey with this book that will take you through the awe-inspiring tales of her career that span over 400 military missions and the unbelievable bond that has developed between this canine and her handlers, Chris Willingham and Juan Rodriguez (both marines). Lucca is part of the most elite group, and she has worked alongside infantry and Special Forces alike, and quickly became the most sought-after military dog requested on a regular basis. How about that?

In Top Dog you will read about all the gritty stories, battles, adventures of this dog, including very tense, lifesaving explosives searches, fire fights, and about the bravery of her Marine Corps handlers. In the end, you'll explore and almost experience the bond between Lucca and her handlers, and how they overcame all of those battle brutalities of war, injuries, and the traumas of violence. It's a heartwarming, inspiring and amazing story with an even better conclusion that will touch you deeply. Dog lovers beware – you will cry.

What I thought: To be honest, I stumbled upon this book completely on accident. I was looking for something new to read about dogs and review for the Top Dog Tips website, and this came along, which was perfect. I did, in fact, read Maria's first book – Soldier Dogs, which came out about 2 years ago, in 2012. It's definitely a must-read for anybody who's as fanatical about canines as I am. In addition to great stories, it gives a very unique, interesting and truthful perspective of what a life of a military dog looks like. With that being said, let's talk Top Dog now.

What's interesting that Lucca isn't purebred German Shepherd, but she is mixed with Belgian Malinois. From the very beginning you'll grasp the essence of how deep her relationship is with her marine handler Chris who's a Staff Sergeant. They trained together and if you're a dog person yourself, you'll be able to connect instantly. Chris and Lucca are absolutely inseparable. They work in tandem among all the battle dangers, trying to survive themselves but primarily focusing all of their resources in order to save human lives. The soul-deep description of camaraderie between a human and a canine is what sells this book. In fact, you almost don't see them as two separate… creatures. It's almost as if they they are one entity, a one beating heart. Not even for a second will you hesitate to think whether these two can ever separate or ever leave each other in combat; as you go through the book you know that it's simply inconceivable, and their loyalty to each other is something we rarely see today, or ever.

Sadly – and I'm not really spoiling anything here – the two eventually separate and have to go their own ways. I might be overly sensitive to these things, or maybe I love dogs and admire the human-dog relationship too much, but the way Maria Goodavage writes about this makes me tear up even now while reviewing her book. Nonetheless, Lucca is never forgotten and always missed. She's the source of stories of decency, of good, of the beautiful life and the respect she has earned over the years. And with this astonishing story the author has also included a bunch of photos from Lucca's days in the military. It's a definite 5-star book, and it will never leave my bookshelf because we need these stories; we must have them, cherish them, and occasionally re-read again just to remind ourselves what true loyalty, unconditional love, and camaraderie is. I hope you'll enjoy Top Dog as much as I did and share with others!

Note: Make sure to not skip Notes and Acknowledgements section – you will enjoy those parts as well, I promise you. Spoiler (not really): you will learn even more about Lucca's handler Chris and their relationship from those sections, and some stories from there were not or could not have been included.


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Alina Rai
Alina is avid dog lover and long-time dog owner who's passionate about all animals. She's an aspiring online writer with over 3 years experience in the field and is currently trying to establish a name for herself as a pet blogger.