Luca, a FWPD officer’s German Shepherd, up for Hero Dog Award

Luca had been living the life of a retired search-and-rescue dog until April 15 of last year. Chew toys, squeaky balls and walks had replaced “the life” for about three years, and a degenerative disease of the spine had set in on the German shepherd, who was, admittedly, a little on the heavy side.

But now, for Luca’s part in saving an elderly man stuck in waist-high mud in the Trinity River, the 11-year-old first-responder-at-heart has been nominated for a 2017 American Humane Hero Dog Award.

On April 15, 2016, Fort Worth police were called to investigate a missing and endangered elderly man. A friend reported the man missing after the two got separated during a trip to Glenn & Jerry’s Auto Salvage. Since the missing man has Alzheimer’s Disease, six officers, two sergeants, a helicopter unit, two fire trucks and an ambulance responded to the call.

One of those officers was Cole Brock, who had been with the Fort Worth Police Department for two years, and who had previously trained Luca — starting when the dog was eight weeks old — to be part of search-and-rescue operations at Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs. The pair then lived in Salt Lake City, and Luca served for six to seven years before retiring, Brock said.

When the search for the missing man seemed to stall, Fort Worth police Sgt. Luis Medrano asked Brock if Luca, then 10 years old, could be of any help.

“Sgt. Medrano was the unsung hero in all this. He took a leap of faith and made the critical executive decision to bring Luca in,” Brock said. “Because at this point Luca drags a foot a little, and misses a step from time to time.”

But that all changed when Brock told Luca, “Let’s go for a ride.” Riding in helicopters had always been the shepherd’s favorite part of the job.

“His reaction is like an excited child who just got the best Christmas gift, or a kid at Disneyland,” Brock said. “I wasn’t surprised, but I was very impressed with how he just snapped back into it. Search and rescue is what he knew. That was truly his passion.”

From the helicopter, Luca alerted at an opening in the brush near the West Fork of the Trinity River, which winds along just south of Glenn & Jerry’s.

The man had become stuck in waist-high mud on the opposite bank of the river where Luca alerted. Officers shed gear, swam across the river and brought the man to safety.

Had Luca not not tracked the man’s trail and located him, the man could have drowned. Brock received a Certificate of Merit and a Lifesaving Award from the Police Department for the rescue, and now Luca is up for the doggy version.

The first voting round for the Hero Dog Award started March 29. Members of the public who are at least 18 years old can register and vote here as the field is narrowed to three semifinalists in several categories. Luca is entered in the Search and Rescue category.

Votes are counted for semifinalists on May 3. There is another public voting period from May 17 through June 28, which will determine the eight finalists (and their humans), who get to go to Los Angeles in September for the American Humane Hero Dog Awards event. A third round of public voting online, held July 12 through August 30, will decide the 2017 Hero Dog, but all eight finalists will be honored at the event.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817