The Disturbing Truth Behind The British Pet Massacre Of 1939

In the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of war, the British Government formed the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee.
Its first action was to issue a notice that was printed in almost every newspaper and announced on the BBC.

It began something like this –

“If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.”

And ended something like this –

“If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.

Daunted by the fear that their beloved pets would be “better off” being put down before bombs rained down, the general population began lining up outside countless vet practices throughout the country.

Thousands of animals dutifully accompanied their masters only to be dumped on their doorsteps; unaware of their sad fates.
After all, it was only weeks before that these places had been used to care for their health and wellbeing.

“Our technical officers called upon to perform this unhappy duty will never forget the tragedy of those days.”

– Maria Dickin, PDSA founder

Some of the killings were done by the pet owners themselves, who were compelled by a sense of misguided “national duty”.
People were basically told to kill their pets, and they did.

The Battersea Dogs and Cats Shelter tried to take in as many pets as they could, rescuing more than 140,000 cats and dogs. So did Wood Green.

It was just another way of signifying that war had begun, says Historian Hilda Kean.

“It was one of the things people had to do when the news came – evacuate the children, put up the blackout curtains, kill the cat.”

– Hilda Kean, Historian

The sudden slaughter was so widespread it even caused a chloroform shortage at The National Canine Defence League, and the incinerators at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals could barely keep up with the sheer volume of corpses.

In just one week, as many as 750,000 British pets were killed. Afterwards, the pets’ corpses lay in heaps outside.

Soon, newspapers started carrying in memoriam notices.

“Happy memories of Iola, sweet faithful friend, given sleep September 4th, 1939, to be saved suffering during the war. A short but happy life – 2 years, 12 weeks. Forgive us, little pal.”

About 500,000 faithful pets were buried in a meadow in Ilford donated as a pet cemetery.

What’s especially sad is that they were killed for no reason. It was really the unavailability of food rations, not bombs, that posed the biggest threat to wartime pets.


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Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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