The despondent man had phoned his family to say he was going to end it all, and St. Joseph County police were racing the clock to get to the potential suicide before it was too late.
Electronic coordinates showed his cell phone in the woods behind Granger Community Church in Mishawaka.
Beni knew better.
"As we were walking down next to the church, Beni already started picking up something," said Cpl. Neil Hoover of the St. Joseph County Police Department's K-9 Unit.
"He was already starting to pull me. I kept watching the woods because I was waiting for Beni to turn up into the woods."
Beni wasn't headed for the woods. The K-9 was tracking a scent to a clearing next to the lake.
"He was really animated about something being in front of us," Hoover said. "So I went ahead and used my flashlight, and turned and went up the area directly in front of us.
"And not more than 10 feet from where we were standing, there he was lying on the ground."
The man was unconscious, but alive.
Beni's keen instincts saved the man's life.
"He's good at what he does," Hoover said.
Amazing may be a more appropriate term to describe the police dog that St. Joseph County Police Department spokesman Sgt. William Redman deems "the most successful K-9 we've ever had."
Hoover had been with the department for four years, but he had yet to realize his dream job as a cop.
"I always wanted to be a dog handler," Hoover said. "That's the only thing I've ever wanted to do as a police officer."
The pairing coupled a young dog that already knew how to track and obey commands with a four-year cop who was eager to take on his first K-9 partner.
But there was one challenge Hoover wasn't expecting: Beni understood only German.
"I had to learn a second language," Hoover said. "I speak German commands; I can't speak the language."
Now, after eight years together, Hoover and Beni understand each other as well as any partners working one of the toughest jobs there is.
Like that February day a couple of years back when Hoover and Beni were chasing down an armed perp who had just robbed a local restaurant.
The K-9 duo had already combed a square mile of area around McKinley and Main Street for nearly two hours when they found the suspect hiding in a garage about three blocks from the crime scene.
"He was all hunkered down in a garage with a weapon and the cash that he took from the robbery," Hoover said.
The perp wasn't about to go quietly.
"Beni got deployed on the guy three or four times," Hoover recalled.
"He's got several bites," Hoover added of a K-9 career that was interrupted last year when Beni went under the knife twice in two months for two knee replacement surgeries.
"Both ACLs were torn," Hoover said. "One of them was completely gone ... he didn't basically have a tendon holding his leg together."
With the exception of a slight hitch in Beni's strut during the funeral procession for fallen K-9 officer Cpl. James Szuba and his dog, Ricky, in January last year, Hoover had no idea how severely Beni's hind legs had worn down.
"We thought he had a pulled muscle in his back," Hoover says. "We didn't dream anywhere close to his knees."
Beni's knee replacement surgery consisted of completely lopping off the top of the tibia bone, realigning with a plate, then replacing both the top portion of the tibia and the bottom of the femur -- on both knees.
Normal downtime for dogs undergoing one total knee replacement surgery involves several months of follow-up physical therapy to ensure that the knee replacement is operating as expected and the body is not rejecting the replacement.
Veterinarians recommend that owners restrict their dog from excessive walking, jumping, climbing stairs and exercise.
Beni is not the average dog.
Following the first surgery on Jan. 14 last year, "He was 100 percent bone-healed in 30 days," Hoover said.
Beni healed so quickly, the surgeon performed the second knee replacement on March 17 -- two months following the first one and eight months sooner than the average recovery time allows for one surgery.
By May, Beni was back on the job chasing down bad guys.
"He came back to work, and right away he was involved in the apprehension of a robbery suspect after a car pursuit," Hoover said with a laugh.
"The guy refused to get out of the car, so Beni gave him a little assistance."
At home in Mishawaka, it's hard to believe Beni is the same dog who can gnash teeth on a violent perp's throat or track down an armed robbery suspect with a relentless vengeance.
"Beni, fooey," Hoover commanded with the German word for a "soft no" as Beni jumped up and greeted a visitor with a heartwarming lick.
When Hoover's two small children -- 5-year-old Sophia and 7-year-old Gavin -- walk into the room, it's obvious Beni loves his family as much as his family loves him.
"From the beginning, we welcomed him to our house," said Hoover's wife, Sara, a second-grade teacher at Beiger Elementary School in Mishawaka.
"It's a family commitment," Sara said of owning a K-9. "It really is a family choice. It couldn't be a decision that Neil could make on his own. I brush Beni, too. I love Beni just as much, and take care of him and feed him. It's a group effort."
And when it's time for Hoover to put on his uniform and head to work for his 10 p.m. all-night shift, Beni is at the front door ready to go by 9 p.m.
"It's like he has that natural body clock," Sara said. "There's a family dog. And there's a work dog. It's amazing that dual personality that he has."
Beni's workdays are numbered. Hoover said Beni is set to be retired within the next 30 to 60 days.
The family has already taken in Oz, a 2-year-old German shepherd Hoover has been training since he was purchased as an 8-week-old puppy.
"I see a lot of the same traits," Hoover said of Beni's eventual K-9 replacement. "The tracking is just as good."
But Hoover showed how much he'll miss Beni on the job as he recalled the day he inquired if the department would pay for Beni's knee replacement surgery, or if he was going to pick up the $3,500-per-knee tab.
"When I walked in, knowing that if I didn't do it Beni's career was over, the major at the time said, 'This dog has been tremendous for us,' " Hoover said.
"The major says that Beni is, by far, the most successful dog this county has ever seen," Hoover said.
"That's a compliment for me as a handler, knowing that I got lucky enough to have this dog."
Hoover paused to wipe tears from his eyes.
Staff writer Jeff Harrell email@example.com 574-235-6368