R.I.P Fido: Britain’s Family Pets are WWII’s Unknown Victims

Humans weren’t the only victims that perished by the hands of the German Nazis. Nearly 750,00 British pets were systematically killed. This is not something many people know about.

The National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee was formed in the summer of 1939, and they wrote a pamphlet called, “Advice to Animal Owners.” Inside the pamphlet, they advised pet owners to take your pets to the countryside in case of an emergency. If the owners could not do so, or find neighbors to care for the family pet, it would be “kindest to have them destroyed.” the BBC reports.

Destroyed. The NARPAC spoke of the beloved family pet as though they were pieces of junk mail or garbage.

Besides the pamphlets, the advice was posted in many local newspapers and was broadcasted on the BBC. Clare Campbell, author of Bonzo’s War: Animals Under Fire 1939 – 1945, states that it was “a national tragedy in the making.”

Campbell shares a childhood memory of her uncle. In the retelling, she shares that her uncle announced that the family pet would have to be killed the next day. Why? There was an announcement that the there may be a shortage of food since Poland was invaded a short time prior to this decision.

War was declared on September 3, 1939. Thousands of pets were brought to veterinary clinics and animal homes.

Historian, Hilda Kean, states, “Animal charities, the PDSA, the RSPCA and vets were all opposed to the killing of pets and very concerned about people just dumping animals on their doorsteps at the start of the war.”

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One animal shelter called the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has been open since 1860. This particular shelter opposed the advice given by the NARPAC, and the manager on duty at the time, Edward Healey-Tutt asked people not to fret and act so quickly when it came to bringing in their pets.

One member of the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), an Arthur Moss, stated the primary responsibility “for them all would be the destruction of animals.”

It has been said by the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) founder, Maria Dicken that those who had to perform the task of killing the animals would never be able to forget the tragedies during this time.

Soon after the pet killings, In Memoriam notices began to be printed in the local newspapers.

When London experienced it’s first bombing in September of 1940,  more pet owners began to panic. Now, even more animals were being brought to clinics for their deaths.

The government painted these tragic killings as a necessity; and thousands of people listened. In the eyes of the government, they didn’t view the pet killings as a way to protect them from potential bombings–it was simply a matter of not having food to sustain the pets.

Many pet owners felt as though it would not right to keep a pet during the war. They saw this as a luxury, especially with possible bombings and the shortage of food–both for people and for the pets.

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While many pet owners took their pets in to be euthanized, there were many who did not. One pet owner remembers her family standing in line to purchase horse meat to be able to feed their family cat. Battersea was able to feed and subsequently save nearly 145,00 dogs during WWII.

The Duchess of Hamilton was one person who tried to prevent being killed. Using her wealth, she was able to create an animal sanctuary. It was here where she had members of her staff bring rescued pets to live during the war. Beside the sanctuary, she also brought hundreds of animals back to her home to keep them alive.

Sadly, not all animals could have been saved. This story is one of the sad truths about WWII that is rarely, if ever, talked aout. Kean sums up the reason why the pet killings were never talked about, “People don’t like to remember that at the first sign of war we went out to kill the pussycat.”