The British Pet Massacre of World War II

Animals have been used in wartime as long as humans have been fighting wars. They have also been innocent victims of war violence for just as long. For Britons during World War II, worry over pet suffering caused many animals to become victims of mercy killings. This little-known incident was one of the largest animal massacres in history.

In 1939, before the war actually started, people started to worry about what to do in case the UK was bombed. As a nation of animal lovers, people were concerned almost as much for their pets as they were for themselves. As fears began to grow, the National Air Raid Precautions Animal Committee (NARPAC) issued a pamphlet that gave pet owners some devastating advice.

static01.nyt.com

The pamphlet urged pet owners to send their animals into the country as soon as possible. If they could not do so, NARPAC stated the best thing to do would be to humanely put them down. The brochure even provided do-it-yourself instructions for killing your pets.

It wasn’t until war on Germany was officially declared on September 3, 1939 that pet owners began acting on NARPAC’s advice en masse. Bomb shelters announced that they would not allow people to bring pets, and owners worried that their animals would needlessly suffer should the UK be attacked with gas or bombed.

Various animal charities were bombarded with requests to euthanize family pets. Although they at first resisted doing so, they worried that owners would simply abandon their pets due to the threat of a food shortage. No food rations were given to cats and dogs, so they would be forced to share their owner’s limited food allowances. The charities realized that the most humane thing to do would be to put these animals to sleep, rather than have them starving on the streets.

After the first wave of pet killings at the very start of the war, things slowed down some until London was first bombed in September 1940. People panicked, and once again veterinary offices and pet charities were forced to euthanize thousands more family pets. Within one week alone, 750,000 cats and dogs were put down.

Many people refused to do away with pets that they considered to be family members. Some shared their food with their pets, sometimes feeding them horsemeat. Rather than go to air raid shelters without their beloved pets, many people stayed home with them when the sirens started blaring.

Some people and organizations also tried to save as many animals as they could. The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home fed and cared for nearly 150,000 dogs during the war, even though they only had four people on staff. The wealthy Duchess of Hamilton even established an emergency animal sanctuary. She took in hundreds of animals and had her staff out scouring the streets of London for pets to rescue. She even took some of the animals into her own home.

Though it sounds horrific to us now, we should remember that, for the most part, the people who euthanized their pets were trying to prevent their suffering. When food became scarce, many felt they had to choose between their human family members and their pets. We should not judge these people too harshly for their actions in the face of real terror and the threat of death. But we should also remember that animals also suffer when humans decide to go to war.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Weird Food of the Middle Ages

    People often like to romanticize the Middle Ages, imagining it as a time of knights and princesses, all dressed in elaborate medieval garb. Some even dream about going back in time to experience life during that time, and renaissance fairs and a popular dinner show have capitalized quite well on this obsession. But many people...

    Read More
  • Witches and Alewives: The Historical Connection

    From The Wizard of Oz to Halloween costumes, the archetypal image of a scary witch typically includes a tall, pointy hat, a cauldron, and a broom, among other accessories. But where did this popular conception arise? Many would be surprised to learn that our idea of what a witch looks like is based on the...

    Read More
  • America’s Secret Female President

    Edith Bolling Galt Wilson seemed an unlikely prospect for running one of the most powerful countries in the world. The second wife of President Woodrow Wilson was born in 1872 to a very poor family from the mountains of Virginia. Though she was given a chance to go to college, she dropped out because her...

    Read More
  • The Reality Behind the Legend of the Golden Fleece

    If you are familiar at all with Greek mythology, you have probably heard about the legend of the Golden Fleece. In this story, Jason (a Greek mythological hero) gathered a group of fellow-heroes together. This group became known as the Argonauts because their ship was named Argo, and Jason was their leader. The purpose of...

    Read More
  • Aaron Burr: Would-Be King

    Aaron Burr, one of the United States’ founding fathers and its one-time Vice President, has generally gone down in history as a bad guy because of the duel in which he killed Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. But for some reason, most people don’t know anything about another chapter in his life...

    Read More
  • Ancient Crocodile Species Identified

    A research team made up of paleontologists from Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Texas has identified a previously unknown species of prehistoric crocodile. The ancient reptile fossils were found in Arlington, Texas, a busy city located right in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. The massive crocodile, which could reach lengths of up to 20...

    Read More
  • The Murder and Lynching that Changed America

    April 26, 1913 was supposed to have been a good day for 13-year-old Mary Phagan. It was Confederate Memorial Day in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lived. She was off for the day from her job at the National Pencil Company. Her plans included stopping by work to pick up her pay and then joining family...

    Read More
  • Female Viking Warrior Grave Identified

    In the 1880s, a Viking grave was excavated in the town of Birka in Sweden. It was obviously the grave of a warrior because it was filled with grave goods signifying as much. Along with weapons, like an axe, arrows, shields, a battle knife, a spear, and a sword, two war horses were also found...

    Read More