How author Milly Johnson channelled tragic loss of beloved dog Teddy into new novel

A best-selling Yorkshire author has channelled the anguish of losing her cherished dog to cancer into her latest novel. Chris Burn speaks to Milly Johnson about the unusual tribute.

25 April 2017.....Author Milly Johnson from Barnsley who has dedicated her latest book to her dog Teddy.
25 April 2017.....Author Milly Johnson from Barnsley who has dedicated her latest book to her dog Teddy.

It is a heartbreaking moment that animal lovers get to know only too well - the death of a beloved family pet is something that inevitably causes huge sadness. But for Yorkshire author Milly Johnson, the death of her dog Teddy from cancer last year had even greater significance as the faithful Eurasier dog was her constant companion as she wrote her last ten novels.

Milly was able to reflect her and her family’s sadness at losing Teddy in her new book written in the final months of his life by turning him into a character in her latest book. She has even dedicated the story, called The Queen of Wishful Thinking, to her faithful pet and a drawing of him appears on the back cover.

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Milly, from Barnsley, got Teddy when he was a puppy and he would regularly sit by her side as she composed her books in her office at home.

25 April 2017.....Author Milly Johnson from Barnsley who has dedicated her latest book to her dog Teddy. Picture Scott Merrylees

“He was absolutely wonderful, he was glued to my side, a proper companion. He was like a small boy in a dog’s body and everything you want and more in a pet.”

But early last year he was sadly diagnosed with bladder cancer that couldn’t be operated on. Despite the devastating terminal diagnosis, Teddy stayed alive for longer than expected, giving Milly her family a precious final few months with him.

“Six months later, the vet said ‘I can’t believe he is still here’. There were days when we thought they had got it wrong and there was nothing wrong with him. But deep down, we knew we had limited time with him.”

The family cancelled planned holidays and decided instead to stay at home with Teddy and use the time to build a summerhouse.

25 April 2017.....Author Milly Johnson from Barnsley who has dedicated her latest book to her dog Teddy. Picture Scott Merrylees

“We decorated it like an American Diner and called it Big Dog’s, it was a sort of Yorkshire Taj Mahal for him! Our last summer with him was painting and decorating it whilst he supervised.”

Teddy managed to survive up until Milly’s son’s 18th birthday in October. “He was absolutely right as rain. It was lovely - he was bouncing around like you wouldn’t believe. Six weeks before that, we had a really bad night and thought this is it, tomorrow we are going to have to let him go. But we had six more lovely weeks with him.”

But shortly afterwards, Teddy took a turn for the worse and needed to be put down.

“When he went, it was very, very quick. The vet came to the house and Teddy was ready. He almost put his paw in the vet’s hand and just went.”

25 April 2017.....Author Milly Johnson from Barnsley who has dedicated her latest book to her dog Teddy. Picture Scott Merrylees

Milly says she was able to pay tribute to Teddy, and come to terms with his impending death, by writing him into her latest book, which is being published in paperback next week.

She says: “When I was writing, I was looking at him and thinking he won’t be here when this book comes out, which was very upsetting. But as a writer, you can channel stuff and I gave this book everything I had.”

Teddy is fictionalised in the novel as ‘Bear’, the dog that belongs to one of the central characters in a story about a woman in an unhappy marriage starting a new job at an antiques shop for a man with a mysterious past.

She finished writing the book before he died but after he passed away Milly wrote an emotional dedication to Teddy that is published at the start of the novel. It says: “We were together all the time and I feel his loss tremendously because he took a part of me with him when he died.”

25 April 2017.....Author Milly Johnson from Barnsley who has dedicated her latest book to her dog Teddy. Picture Scott Merrylees

Milly keeps Teddy’s ashes by the side of her bed and says she initially struggled to go into the summerhouse, which has paw print steps leading up to it, after his death because it reminded her of him.

But she says she now hopes to write there in the warmer weather surrounded by things that provide happy memories of her time with the “gentle giant” of a dog.

“It might seem mad but it is our way of keeping him in our hearts,” she says.