Tuesday, 05 January 2016

How is Coco?

The beloved pooch who became The Lady’s canine columnist is struggling in her twilight years, but Rachel Johnson is determined to give her a dignified goodbye

Written by Rachel Johnson
Coco-176-2A reader even knitted majestic red and brown ‘reindeer antlers’The headline on a news story late last year – ‘New drug may allow dogs to live for years longer’ – made my heart stop. Readers will remember Coco, our beloved Lab-Collie cross, with a white blaze and paws. She was office dog here at The Lady magazine and she wrote her own column, Coco’s Corner.

You sent her in bed baskets and treats and products for her shining black coat. One year, a dogged reader even knitted the majestic red and brown ‘reindeer antlers’ that were printed in the magazine as our festive knitting pattern. She loved all your treats and attention even more than she loved the subs’ biscuits and I would like to thank you all for them again on her behalf.

Her years at The Lady were among the highlights of her life (and of her mistress’s, of course). One year, she was even a cover girl.

Anyway, sometimes you have asked me what happened to Coco as she hasn’t been in the magazine for a few years now and many people have asked me to bring you all up to date.

As Coco has retired and is resting and not in the right spirits to put paws to paper she has asked me to fill you in. The news, I’m afraid, is not good.

Coco is 13 years old.

In November last year she started having fits, her flanks heaving and her jaws foaming. The vet thought the episodes were firework-related, but when they persisted he prescribed anticonvulsants.

She 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.

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

I thanked her for everything she’d done in the past 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 who has 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 also the best dog in the history of the world.

Strangers stop me in the street to pet her. As many people have pointed out, she is the only member of the household with any manners.

Even before Coco started having fits, my daughter rang up out of the blue from her 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 very gungho about assisted dying. I still am.

But there is no way I’m prepared to cut short her 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 Coco to make her final journey to ‘Dognitas’ to join her best friend, Ginkgo, who will always be remembered for her ability to eat a whole pat of Anchor butter and then place the wrapper in the bin with her mouth.

Just like that poor socialite of 50 who felt she had lost her ‘sparkle’ and went to court to fight for the right to die, many of us long to be able to put ourselves down and out, but can’t.

But we CAN 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, as well as an honour, to bear.

When we first 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.

Coco sadly passed away on 23 December.
Coco: April 1 2001 - 23 December 23 2015

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