Thirty years ago I was so happy, I had landed my dream job. I was suffering from imposter syndrome, but I was still very excited to be the launch editor of Dogs Today magazine. It aimed to give the pet dog a voice and make life much better for our best friends.
Best of all, I could bring my beloved Bearded Collie Sally to work with me in the posh Windsor offices, in the shadow of the famous Castle. But after 18 months, on the same day Windsor Castle caught fire, our lovely magazine was closed and we were all told to go home.
I was young, in my twenties and a long way from my Liverpool home, but with my dog at my side I somehow felt invulnerable. The staff all went to the pub pushing past the film crews reporting on the blaze. We vowed to return to work the next day and finish the next edition.
All the other journalists thought we were barking mad.
When Sally was a pup she had contracted a very new virus that was killing dogs. No one yet had an effective vaccine and our vet admitted that the best we could do was to keep her hydrated at home, that she’d most probably die like all the others.
Before her first symptom, Sally had been destined to be a top show dog, she was technically the best Beardie I had ever bred and I was then a child protege of the dog show world.
Over the next five days, she clung to life and we became very close. She sat on my lap and I was willing her to survive. Her little tail would wag when I spoke to her. By the end she looked like a beaten up old Steiff teddy bear – all the stuffing had been knocked out of her. Her fawn fur coat was now several sizes too big for her, she’d lost so much weight. But against all the odds, she beat the virus.
That shared experience created the most powerful connection. Back then I had very low self esteem and was still living at home with my parents. I knew I needed to be brave, but to find a career it meant moving south as jobs were very scarce in Liverpool.
It took a few years to land my dream job, the one that at last allowed me to bring my dog to work.
It was a horrible shock when I was told the magazine was closing. But, when Sally looked up at me I knew what to do. I asked my bosses if I could buy the magazine if they didn’t want it any more.
We were part of the enormous Daily Mail group and my strange request to buy a magazine that had lost £350,000 was passed higher and higher up the chain of managers.
Eventually Viscount Rothermere, the Chairman of the company, summoned me to his office in Kensington.
He told me he had been the one who had invented the magazine and he had been very sad that it had failed. That he was delighted I wanted to try to keep it going. He said his financial advisor had told him to invest in me and that he should sell me the magazine for £1. He also asked if he could purchase some shares in my new company.
He showed me a photo of his financial advisor, it was his Japanese Akita.
A few years later he confessed he had thought I had stood no chance of making it profitable, and how delighted he had been when we won Small Publisher of the Year that very first year.
This year would have been our magazine’s 30th birthday and at the start of this month we had our proudest hour when Lucy’s Law came into force banning puppies being sold in pet shops in England. This had been one of the first campaigns we started all those years ago.
Sadly, we had to go into administration not long after the March 2020 edition came out. The magazine had come to define me, it was my life. When it closed I was surprisingly calm, like I was last time my world was turned upside down.
But no matter how dark, there will always be dawn.
My Sally may no longer be by my side, but she’s always in my heart. There’s still so much we need to do to make the world better for dogs and their owners.
We’ve bought the title back from the administrator. we weren’t ready to give up. The concept is much more than a business. In these strange and difficult times things have become very much simpler. My latest dog Betty teaches me how to live in the moment, to be present.
Sally taught me never to give up. That all you can ever do is your best.
It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of something possibly better.
I have written the true story of how we saved the magazine and would love it to become a film. Until then I have made a podcast of the story – which I have called The Devil Wears Dog Hair. Click here to listen. I hope it makes you smile.