A beloved cancer-stricken dog is dead, but the love and memories felt by many in attendance at Wednesday’s military dog farewell ceremony in Michigan will go on.
A museum ship, the USS LST 393, was the site where hundreds of mourners gathered to offer a hero’s farewell to Cena, a 10-year-old black Labrador retriever. Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung was the dog’s owner.
DeYoung helped organize the Muskegon ceremony to help celebrate the brave dog’s life before he was euthanized due to his terminal cancer diagnosis. According to the dog’s owner, his four-legged pooch lived a colorful life.
Cena served three tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. The amazing canine and his handler met in 2009 and again in 2010 on two combat tours. DeYoung adopted Cena five years after they met and they have been inseparable ever since his military discharge, according to a Global News report.
According to the American Kennel Club (or AKC), Labs are some of the world’s most popular service dogs. They are revered for being “friendly and outgoing.” Moreover, due to their mild temperament, “Labs play well with others” and are very easy to train. DeYoung bonded with Cena and leaned on him for support through his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) when he returned from combat.
The military veteran recalled how he’d drape Cena on his back and waded through rivers as they took on hostile fire from Taliban militants. The loyal dog also kept his body warm from the exposure of cold nights. And when DeYoung lost seven fellow soldier friends in the line of duty over a span of weeks, Cena was there to provide comfort.
Recently, DeYoung noticed that his military dog companion showed signs of distress; Cena was unable to bear weight on one of his limbs. DeYoung took the military dog to a veterinarian where the Lab was diagnosed with an “aggressive form” of bone cancer. At some point, the decision was made to put Cena down.
The Marine wanted to honor the military dog in a special way before he was to be euthanized. So, he hatched a novel idea.
“It started off with my basically wanting to go to a dealership and wanting to borrow a Jeep for a day and really small to a community tribute or a community parade for him and he’s truly deserved it all.”
In a pinch, he was able to rally many people to take part in a farewell ceremony for the ailing military canine. By all accounts, his efforts paid off to honor his friend. For a final ride, DeYoung paraded Cena around in an open-top Jeep. A sign attached to the vehicle read, “Cancer Response Team.”
Mourners and animal lovers from all walks of life attended the services at the military facility: state and local law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Marine Corps League, members of the Muskegon Fire Department, and a canine officer.
Cena was given a three-volley salute during the playing of “Taps.” The esteemed animal wore a blue Marine vest as many said their farewells. DeYoung later exited the museum with Cena in a flag-draped coffin for transportation to his final resting place.
DeYoung offered some final words about the military dog farewell ceremony for his comrade.
“The support, all the love people are giving him, he can see it and he can feel it. Any dog that served overseas deserves exactly what I’ve done for Cena, if not more.”
[Featured Image by David P. Smith/Shutter Stock]