“Benjie, you were a really good dog.”

It has taken me a few days to prepare to write this.

Our field trial at Savannah River Valley Beagle Club in Edgefield, SC, last week was a one way trip on an emotional rollercoaster for my wife Jan and me.

The trial started with a bang on Wednesday when our Beagle, Cotton Hill Benjie, won the 13-inch Male Class, sealing the deal with a decisive final run, tracking the rabbit through thick cover and not hesitating when he came into the clear. He walked the rabbit right on across the strip.

The win was Benjie’s third – for those not familiar with beagle field trials, beagles need three wins and a total of 120 points – and a quick check showed he now needed only 18.75 points for his championship. A few more 2nds, 3rds or 4ths would give him the coveted title.

When I took Benjie back to the kennel I noticed he had not eaten very much of his dry food from the night before. Not a great concern; sometimes dogs just don’t eat for one reason or another, but usually after a day they are as voracious as ever.

But later that afternoon we noticed Benjie was being mopey, his tail tucked and his back looked stiff. By Thursday morning he definitely was dealing with some issue, so we rushed him to the vet. After blood tests and some probing the vet determined he had a stone blocking his urethra. His renal chemistry levels were highly elevated due to urine backing up.

The vet was able to flush the stone back into the bladder. He then put Benjie on IVs for the night, with plans to operate Friday morning and remove the stone and any others in the bladder. Benjie was alert on Friday morning and the operation began.

Then we got the phone call. When the vet got inside he discovered a cancerous mass had enveloped Benjie’s pelvic region. It was inoperable, so we made the only decision we could.

R.I.P., Cotton Hill Benjie. You were a really good dog and a good competitor in the field. You went out in a blaze of glory. You did not end with a title, but you were a real champion.

Pat Robertson is a Blythewood resident and president of the SC Outdoor Press Association.