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Hundreds give hero's farewell to Marine dog with cancer

"He's not just a dog, he's family and he's a Marine just the same," said Cena's owner, Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung.
/ Source: TODAY

A beloved Marine dog was given a legendary final farewell by hundreds — strangers and friends alike — in the streets of Muskegon, Michigan.

Scores of people came out on Wednesday to pay tribute to 10-year-old Cena, a black Lab who was recently diagnosed with terminal bone cancer.

Cena belonged to Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung, who was paired with the pup in 2009 during a nine-month stint in Afghanistan. Cena served as a bomb-sniffing dog.

While they were separated after their return back to the U.S., DeYoung and Cena were reunited four years later when DeYoung was able to adopt the canine. Cena acted as a service dog and helped DeYoung, now 27 and retired from the Marines, cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My whole adult life I've had Cena. 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,” DeYoung told NBC’s Nightly News. “This dog saved my life. I trust him more than I trust most human beings.”

In his final hours, Cena paraded past the crowds in an open Jeep as well-wishers waved goodbye. DeYoung, in uniform, then carried Cena to a World War II-era where a veterinarian ended the dog’s suffering.

U.S. Marine veteran Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung carries Cena, a 10-year-old black Lab who was a military service dog, aboard the ship where he was put down on Wednesday. AP

DeYoung said he’d miss the small things about Cena the most. “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 gets up and he says, 'Where we going today?'

"Just him, it's gonna be tough," he said.

A Go Fund Me page to raise money to buy a headstone for Cena already surpassed its goal. Hundreds of contributors wrote messages thanking Cena and DeYoung for their service.

Cena was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer.AP

“Thank you for your love, loyalty and service to all you have protected,” wrote one person. “One day, you will both be together again on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Until then, rest in peace, Cena,” wrote another.

DeYoung said the hero’s goodbye was exactly what his best friend deserved.

“He can see it and he can feel it … these dogs, they go out every day and they bring people back every day," DeYoung said. "He’s not just a dog, he's family and he's a Marine just the same.”