The Force was with Luke until the end

Luke was five points away from winning his Field Championship when he passed away in his sleep.

This is the story of Luke, a dog’s tale of triumph — and tragedy. Luke’s story makes me want to believe that all dogs actually do go to Heaven.

In an agreement with the breeders of Luke’s litter, my wife, Jan, and I took the litter when they were a couple of months old and raised them until they were ready to start running on rabbits. The litter was made up of five pups, four males and one female.

Our friends John and Don took the smallest male and the female, and we kept the three bigger males, which we tabbed the “Star Wars Litter” when our grandchildren named them after characters in the movie.

Han Solo showed the most promise at first, placing regularly in AKC Licensed Field Trials and actually winning one early in his derby season. Luke was not far behind, but had not made the step forward to become a consistent winner. Anakin had all the tools, but was a slower developer.

When the three pups were about a year old, brothers Sonny and Kevin Price became co-owners, and gave the dogs the kind of regular training they needed, ran them in trials we were unable to attend and, most importantly, campaigned them in the spring lineup of national federation derby trials.

Kevin, who lives in Kingston, GA, took Solo and Anakin. Sonny, who lives in Fyffe, AL, took Luke.

At the first trial, the Midwestern Federation of Beagle Clubs held at Blue Grass Beagle Club in Kentucky, Luke came back third in second series in a class of 21, 15-inch male derbies — and won it!

Luke followed that with a 4th place at the Mid-Dixie Federation held at Catawba County Beagle Club near Maiden, N.C. Next was the Heartland Federation at Lorain County Beagle Club in New London, Ohio, where he came back high in second series and held on for his second Federation win.

He did not place at the Eastern Federation held at Swatara Beagle Club near Elizabethtown, PA. Then it was on to the International Federation, held at Coraopolis Beagle Club at Clinton, PA, where he came back 3rd and climbed to the top for his third Federation Derby win, wrapping up the American Brace Beagle Association Purina Award as the Top 15-inch Derby Male for 2023. He had notched three wins and a 4th in five Federation derby trials.

Raleigh, Pat, and Jan Robertson pose with Sonny Price and Luke, a dog the author is sure went to Heaven.

By the end of the year, he picked up three more AKC licensed wins and stood just a few points away from his Field Champion title.

Just before Christmas, however, dark clouds began forming on the horizon. At a trial at Middle Georgia Beagle Club near Macon, Luke stumbled out of the kennel and appeared very lethargic. His right eye was red and swollen.

We took him to a local veterinarian who did a blood test and thought Luke was suffering from some kind of infection and prescribed an antibiotic.

He recovered well enough to compete in several trials after the first of the year and placed in all of them, picking up points toward his championship. A photo of Luke, posed by Sonny, with our family standing behind holding all the plaques he had won, graced the January cover of Brace Beagling Now Magazine.

But in February, we learned Luke had lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer. He had just a few weeks to live.

Boosted by medications to provide some short term relief from the rigors of the cancer, Luke seemed almost normal for a few weeks. We entered him in a double-header field trial at Iodine State Beagle Club in Ware Place, SC.

He finished 4th the first day and 2nd the following day, pushing his point total to where he needed just five points for his championship. It was possible he could pick up those points at another double-header just two weeks away.

But a few nights after the trials at Iodine State, he went to sleep for the final time and passed away peacefully.

Luke obviously did not care about titles.  But we who raised him, trained him and competed with him, know in our minds and hearts that he died a Champion, even though he was just five points shy of his Field Championship. All Luke wanted to do was put his nose to the ground and trail rabbits.

Luke’s story raises the question: Do all dogs really go to Heaven? The great American social commentator Will Rogers had the best answer to that.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven,” he said, “then when I die, I want to go where they went.”

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