Cena’s last ride: Procession honors war dog

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A dog who served three combat tours was given a hero’s goodbye in Muskegon Wednesday.

Cena worked for years sniffing out improvised explosive devices for the U.S. Marine Corps. One of his tours was served alongside Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung; they spent nine months as a team in Afghanistan. They were separated when DeYoung’s tour ended, then reunited in 2014 when Cena retired from the military and came to live and work with DeYoung in Muskegon.

But after Cena, now 10, was diagnosed with bone cancer, DeYoung spent the last few days organizing a final tribute for his wartime partner.

“My whole adult life I’ve had Cena,” DeYoung told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “When I was 19 overseas learning how to be responsible, I had Cena. And now I’m 27 and I’m having to say goodbye to one of the biggest pieces of my life.”

With the help of family, friends and even complete strangers, the two experienced one last ride before their goodbye.

With the top down on a donated Jeep and a police escort, Cena and DeYoung — both in dress blue uniforms — led a procession of more than 20 motorcycles and 30 Jeeps and trucks through Muskegon.

Everyone who took part did so because they realized Cena is a hero.

“The best way I can covey it is that these dogs, when they go out every day and they bring those people back every day, that’s saving lives — whether just saving the ones you’re on patrol with or you’re saving ones that you find with an IED,” DeYoung explained.

He organized the sendoff without realizing so many people from the community would join in.

“It started off with me 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. The support, all the love people are giving him, he can see it and he can feel it,” DeYoung said.

The ride started and ended at the USS LST 393, a World War II ship-turned-museum in Muskegon. At 6 p.m., a veterinarian walked on board as people said their final goodbyes. A three-volley salute sounded and “Taps” played as DeYoung carried Cena aboard.

DeYoung said he’ll miss “the goofy look he gets on his face when you open a potato chip bag.”

“Whenever I grab his vest off the peg and he says, ‘Where we going today?’ Just him,” he continued. “It’s gonna be tough.”

He hopes Cena’s story will show people the importance of taking care of combat dogs after their service is over.

“We need to have health care for these animals so they can have treatment and chemo, which is a thing for dogs, most people don’t know that,” he said. “Any dog that served overseas deserves exactly what I’ve done for Cena, if not more.”

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