If you spend enough time with a friend or acquaintance, they can start to feel like a member of your family. This is especially true for people who experience traumatic events together—in a strange way, their shared experience brings them intimately closer. This can even happen with our non-human friends.
In 2009, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey DeYoung of Muskegon, Michigan was serving in Afghanistan when he was randomly paired with a military service dog named Cena, whose job it was to protect Marines from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The pair traveled ahead of their patrol, constantly on the lookout for IEDs. Because of the intense work and the level of trust that developed between man and dog, the two became almost inseparable.
Jeff DeYoung and Cena worked together in Afghanistan for about six months in 2009 and 2010.
According to MLive, the pair was responsible for saving countless Marines’ lives during the time they spent together. While Cena worked hard to save his fellow Marines’ lives, DeYoung worked hard to make sure Cena stayed safe in the often hostile region.
“My main goal was to protect him,” DeYoung told ABC News in a 2014 interview.
There were many times that DeYoung needed to sling the black Labrador over his shoulders so they could safely cross a river, or cuddle the dog close to him so Cena wouldn’t freeze overnight. In just a few short months, the two had truly become best friends—until April 2010.
In April 2010, DeYoung went back home to the United States and Cena stayed behind in Afghanistan.
DeYoung and Cena were split up without saying goodbye, in a tactic that according to ABC News is supposed to make the separation between a handler and service dog easier. Back home, DeYoung found it extremely difficult to cope without Cena by his side.
“I’d always understood that I wouldn’t have him forever, but I’d had no idea how being apart from him would affect me,” DeYoung wrote in a BBC news magazine.
For the next four years DeYoung went about his life, getting married three days after returning home, starting a family, and going to college, but he never forgot about Cena. Finally, one day while he was at school he received a call from a woman who asked if he would like to adopt Cena. Cena had reached the maximum amount of years to serve—six years—and was in need of a home.
“Without even thinking I said, ‘Heck, yes!’ That was 24 April 2014, one day shy of four years since Cena and I had been separated,” DeYoung wrote.
Four years after being separated, Cena and DeYoung were reunited.
Although Cena was now retired, he still had work to do and a life to save.
DeYoung was still feeling the effects of his time in Afghanistan and it was greatly affecting his life. He would have a panic attack when he heard a child cry, which made it very difficult to care for his three children; he attempted suicide, and in June 2015 he got a divorce. But with Cena by his side he was able to cope more easily.
In a sit down interview with American Humane, DeYoung said that it only took a few weeks of Cena being back by his side that he noticed an improvement in the things he could do. DeYoung found himself attending concerts and watching movies in a movie theater, something he was unable to do during the four years he was away from Cena.
Unfortunately after three years of living with DeYoung, Cena was diagnosed with bone cancer.
The 10-year-old Labrador was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and with very few options, DeYoung decided it was best to put his “brother” down.
On July 26th, DeYoung and members of the community honored Cena with an emotional farewell ceremony organized by the Marine Corps League.
Cena and DeYoung spent their final day together in their Marine dress blues—Cena had a custom made uniform—and Cena got to take one last ride in an open-top Jeep Wrangler.
On the night before Cena was to be put down, DeYoung shared a heartfelt message to his beloved “brother.”
Following the military hero’s farewell ceremony, Cena was put down onboard the USS LST-393, a tank landing ship that was used during World War II and is now at a museum in Muskegon, Michigan.
A fundraiser has been set up by Jacobie Baumann, a fellow Marine, to help pay for the funeral, headstone and statue in honor of Cena. As of July 28th, over $52,000 has been raised, exceeding the original asking amount of $40,000.
While Cena may have completed his last tour on Earth, his spirit will surely live on within DeYoung.