RACHEL JOHNSON: Do I love my pet enough to take her off to Dognitas?

The headline on last Friday's news story – 'Drug may allow dogs to live for years longer' – made my heart stop. Coco, our beloved Lab-Collie cross, with a white blaze and paws, is 13 years old. Last month she started having fits, her flanks heaving and her jaws foaming.

The vet thought that the episodes were fireworks-related but when they persisted, he prescribed anti-convulsants.

Coco follows us around, seems tired, and doesn't like being alone. But life goes on, and last week I called her kennels in the Chilterns to say we needed to pop her in over the 'holidays' and explained about the fits.

Everyone knows a dog is not just for Christmas, it's for life. What they should say is, a dog is for death too (file photo)

Everyone knows a dog is not just for Christmas, it's for life. What they should say is, a dog is for death too (file photo)

'Sorry,' said the owner, who'd been taking her since she was a bumbling puppy, explaining that she couldn't be responsible for an old dog with epilepsy.

I THANKED her for everything she'd done for 13 years and put down the phone, lost as to what to do. 'There is another, more brutal… option,' said the other functioning adult in the house.

'No!' I snapped.

Just as all mothers think their own baby is the most beautiful baby that's ever been born, Coco – bought from an Exmoor farmer for £20 aged eight weeks – is not just the best money we've ever spent. She is the best dog in the history of the world. Strangers stop me in the street to pet her.

As many have pointed out, she is the only member of the household with any manners. For a time she was office dog at The Lady magazine, and wrote her own column called Coco's Corner, the one thing I did that the matriarchal proprietor ever admitted she liked.

Even before Coco started having fits, my daughter suddenly rang up out of the blue from university and said: 'If you put Coco down without telling me I'll never speak to you again.'

And then the children came home and saw Coco having a long fit.

They sat with their arms around her, tears pouring down their faces. They knew.

Until this winter, I was always very gung-ho about assisted dying. I still am. But there is no way I'm prepared to cut short Coco's precious life by one day in order to fit in with our plans. I am researching rapamycin – the possible wonder-drug – instead.

It's not yet time for her to make her final journey to 'Dognitas', to join her best friend Ginko, who will always be remembered for her ability to eat a whole pat of Anchor butter then place the wrapper in the bin with her mouth.

Like the poor, 50-year-old socialite featured in the news last week – who wanted to die because she had lost her 'sparkle' – many of us long for the right to put ourselves down and out when the time comes. But that, of course, remains fraught with difficulty.

WE CAN, however, choose to give our beloved pets a good death, and when.

With animals, the sovereignty lies with us, which is an awesome and terrible responsibility and honour to bear.

When we got Coco someone said: 'She's not a pet. She's a family tragedy,' I didn't really get what he meant, until now.

Everyone knows a dog is not just for Christmas, it's for life.

What they should say is, a dog is for death too. 

 

 I've solved the mystery of those evil 'fat haters'

A rum lot calling themselves 'Overweight Haters Ltd' are serving cards to porkers on the Tube, even though curves and spare tyres are becoming hot again (I refer you to the Pirelli Calendar 2016, for starters, which features roly-poly actress Amy Schumer, left, looking very comfortable in her skin).

I was puzzling over who could be bothered with such a pointless and nasty prank.

And then I had a lightbulb moment. I think it's all those nice young tanked-up Tories from the party's youth wing.

They aren't on all those jolly Road Trips any more, spreading the news that the future belongs to them. I reckon it's them, carrying on their good works underground.

The Pirelli Calendar for 2016 features roly-poly actress Amy Schumer looking very comfortable in her skin

The Pirelli Calendar for 2016 features roly-poly actress Amy Schumer looking very comfortable in her skin

 

Get out of our argument! 

Was in Dublin when limited abortion rights were extended to women in Northern Ireland (but only if the foetus carried a fatal abnormality, or was there as a result of rape or incest) and when a madman shot several innocents at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the US. The letters pages of the Irish press curdled with protests from Catholic bishops over the legalisation of abortion.

'To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person continues to be gravely morally wrong in all circumstances,' the single, childless men of the cloth wrote to The Irish Times. Meanwhile, a state representative in Colorado concluded that the Planned Parenthood clinic brought the atrocity on itself as it provided legal abortions. All this is medieval madness.

Women – in some cases carrying dead babies – have to travel to the UK from Ireland to seek terminations, or face the anguish of delivering the foetus, which is barbaric; while in the US, crazed violence is justified by legislators themselves. I'm fed up with priests and politicians having any standing in this debate. I don't want to hear a single peep out of them ever again. 

 

The champion who brought tennis home to Britain walks into a state-of-the-art national tennis centre… and finds nobody for tennis. He returns the next day, to find only tumbleweed still rolling over the pristine courts. This is not a joke.

Andy Murray is right to call out the LTA on Roehampton, and the association's abject failure to attract new young blood into the game. Judy Murray, who has done more for tennis in this country than all the execs at the LTA put together, was right to say what was needed was 40 smaller, £1 million centres, rather than a single flagship one of £40 million that is never used.

And Andy, next time you find yourself swinging by London without a partner, hit me up. Not wanting to boast or anything, but you'd better bring your A-game. I once played second pair for my college. 

Andy Murray is right to call out the LTA on Roehampton after walking into a state-of-the-art national tennis centre… and finding nobody for tennis

Andy Murray is right to call out the LTA on Roehampton after walking into a state-of-the-art national tennis centre… and finding nobody for tennis

 

Blanche Girouard, a religious studies teacher at St Paul's Girls' School, has shocked the nation by saying that, in her view, older women of 70-plus who only did needlework and domestic science were much more content than the young bluestockings of today with their strings of As. 'Happiness and success don't turn on A*s and a place at Oxford,' she said. I sent Blanche a reassuring email in the midst of this telling her to ignore the stink, and telling her that – even though her only daughter went to St Paul's and Oxford – my own mother (73) has always maintained it's a 'great mistake' to educate girls at all.

 

I've had one of those boring super-viruses that never goes away. I asked telly's Dr Christian Jessen – as you do – if it was normal still to feel suboptimal and very short on sparkle after SEVEN weeks. 'We used to kick a virus in four days,' he said. 'Now they're around for months.' This is because they've mutated, and also because we don't give in to bed rest and blanket baths and chicken soup. I extend my sympathies to all readers who've had the lurgy recently. I hear you. Except I don't. Mine has left me deaf too. 

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