A NORTH-East dog, believed to be the oldest in Britain, has died.

Lass, a 24-year-old crossbred Jack russell and West Highland terrier, died at Christmas after collapsing with back trouble at Tom Martin’s cottage in Westgate, Weardale, County Durham.

Lass, aged more than 100 in dog years, is now buried in the cottage garden alongside her twin sister, Tatt, who died two years ago, aged 22, from the same problem.

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Mr Martin, a 74-year-old retired oil rig worker, kept Tatt’s ashes in a box after she had been cremated.

“The dogs were the joy of my life. They were my family,”

said Mr Martin, who was given the two dogs when they were puppies by a friend in Sunderland. They were inseparable in life, now they are together in death.”

Although Mr Martin has recorded Lass’ age since he retired at 50, his claims that she could be Britain’s oldest dog would have to be verified by the Guinness Book of Records.

He feels this is unlikely to happen because she was cross-bred and had none of the papers that go with pedigree breeds.

“I know she was 24 because I checked her age every time I moved house. She would have been 25 next month,” he said.

But Mr Martin is not concerned about breaking records. He said: “She and Tatt were my constant companions.

I have never had a holiday in the 24 years I have had them.

They were the joy of my life.”

The dogs’ grave is marked by a stone arch in the garden.

“I won’t be putting any inscription on it,” said Mr Martin.

“It will be a very private place.”

Mr Martin, who spent most of his working life on rigs in the Middle East and US, attributes both dogs’ great ages to lots of exercise and good food.

“When I lived on the coast in Sunderland I would walk miles with them along the beach. And that continued when we moved to Weardale 15 years ago,” he said.

He said Lass’ favourite meal was fresh mince bought from a local butcher.

“I also bought her a chicken every week. All that was left for me were the wings and a bit of skin,” he said.

No one at Guiness Records was available to comment.

■ A 20-year-old dachshund cross terrier Otto, from Shrewsbury, who was officially crowned the world’s oldest dog by the Guinness World Records, was put down a year ago.