'It is kinder to have them destroyed': Government advised pet cull during WWII

black and white photo of vet examining scruffy dog in debris dog-cat-sad © Grimsby Blue Cross animal hospital (Grimsby, UK) - Facebook

There are some parts of our history that aren’t easy to re-visit...and this is definitely one of those stories.

By Justine Seraphin

Published on the , Updated on the

In the summer of 1939, right before the second World War broke out, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed. The committee drafted a notice which contained advice for animal owners. It read:

"If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency. If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed."

Tough times to own a pet

Following this advice, thousands of people rushed to vet clinics or animal shelters to have their pets destroyed. For many British families, keeping an animal during a time of such struggle was a luxury they simply couldn’t afford. There were food shortages already - and feeding an extra mouth was difficult.

Besides, the government told them to do it, so at a time of war, they listened. Killing the family pet was much like getting blackout curtains and evacuating the children - part of the necessary procedure.

750,000 British pets were destroyed in a single week.

A tragic time

In Memoriam notices bear witness to this tragic time. One of them read: "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." 

Of course, not everyone destroyed their pets. Many did everything they could to keep feeding and protecting them throughout the years of the war. Some, like Nina Duchess of Hamilton, adopted those who were left behind by their owners. And animal shelters did their best too. 

In fact, Battersea only had four staff during the course of the war - yet they managed to feed and care for 145,000 dogs total.

The British pet cull is a little known part of history because it goes against what Britain is usually known as - a nation of pet lovers. 

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