The great massacre of pets in the United Kingdom before the outbreak of World War II

At the start of World War II the London government distributed a pamphlet advising people to keep their pets safe in the countryside.

And, if they did not have that possibility, to sacrifice them for their own good, given the hardship that was going to imminently fall on the country. Consequently, approximately seven hundred fifty thousand animals they died in a week, twice as many as British in the entire conflict.

The impact of a war on the civilian population has always been devastating, either because of the direct military actions that it has to suffer almost as if it were a combatant, or because of the privations derived from the shortage.

However, currently the massive presence of the media in recent conflicts has made it possible to discover that animals are also victims and not only those that were traditionally part of armies, such as horses, mules, dogs or pigeons; In this sense, the images of the Iraq zoo, with its tenants turned into living skeletons, had a wide impact.

But there are few zoos and, instead, many people have pets. It is not something that happens only now. In the summer of 1939, the winds of war were already blowing so strongly that everyone expected the outbreak of hostilities sooner or later.

It was in this context that the NARPAC (National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee) an organization designed to deal with the problem of pets in a war context.

NARPAC was an extension of the famous ARP (Air Raid Precaution), established in 1937 to protect civilians in case of air raids. Their organization was based on local committees in which they formed volunteer guards of various types: guards, ambulance drivers and messengers, for example, who coordinated with the fire brigade and the police.

They were the ones making sure the lights in homes were turned off during attacks, reporting bomb damage to homes, directing citizens to shelters, etc.

Their image is familiar from seeing them often in movies. Initially, the guards did not have a uniform and only wore an armband and helmet; from 1941 they already had specific campaign clothing, blue. Near million and a half men and women They were part of that service throughout the war, 131,000 of whom were full-time.

That summer NARPAC distributed a informative billboard among citizens. with the title Notice to pet ownerswarned them of the advisability of sending their animals out of the cities, To the villagesfearing that there would not be enough food in the coming years and that the foreseeable rationing would prevent them from providing food.

The brochure stated verbatim: «If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed»; I mean, «If you cannot leave them in the care of the neighbors [rurales]it really is more benevolent to sacrifice them.”

when the September 1st Germany began the invasion of Poland, thus implicating the United Kingdom in compliance with its agreement with that country, that black future for dogs, cats, fish and birds became a reality.

Just two days later the veterinary consultations they were overwhelmed by throngs of people willing to follow official advice; Curiously, the document attached advertising for a butcher gunof a single projectile, to carry out the operation at home.

Other organizations such as PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) and RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) sand opposed that measure so drastic, not only because they were forced to collaborate in the sacrifices by giving up facilities and technicians, but also because they considered it excessive and premature.

In addition, an extra problem was created because many people just parted with their animals abandoning them. In fact, during the following years it would be shown that the supply would not reach such dramatic levels as had been said.

That is why an institution like Battersea Dogs and Cats, who had been working in the protection of domestic dogs and cats since 1860, advised those who consulted her not to rush. And although she barely had four employees, she managed to care for and feed none other than one hundred and forty five thousand pets during the war.

It is true that he had the active and tireless sponsorship of the duchess of hamiltonwho toured England and Scotland in search of foster homes and managed to convert an old airfield into a sanctuary, inserting advertising spots on the BBC and even sending his staff to pick up the animals at home.

Other animal owners also decided not following NARPAC instructions and remain faithful to their friendship. They shared their rations and sought out extras on the black market in further proof that Britain never really went hungry, thanks in part to convoys from America.

However, many of those who ignored NARPAC in the first instance changed their minds a year later, in September 1940, when the Luftwaffe began the blitzthe London air raid and other cities.

Then panic set in and there was a second wave of sacrifices in which veterinary clinics were once again collapsed. Paradoxically, at that point, there were already more voices against and some official ones, such as that of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (Royal Army Veterinary Corps), which highlighted the usefulness of dogs in times of war.

In fact, many families had lent their dogs to the armed forces to collaborate in various activities while the state of war lasted and never saw them again: up to six thousand dogs were sacrificed and, it seems, MI5 itself came to watch over the dogs. opponents of that measure.

Handout distributed with recommendations for euthanizing pets/Image: National Archives on Wikimedia Commons

Nor did the animals at the London Zoo escape the black fate, at least a part of them. There was no lack of accusations against the government for fomenting collective hysteria; as it says hilda keanone of the historians who studied this episode, the way to underline the state of war was “evacuate the children, close the curtains and kill the cat”.

The measure brought another negative side effect: the spread of a certain pessimism, of a sadness common to many who got rid of their pets at the first adversity and, as was later shown, without compelling reasons.

The senses were frequent animal obituaries in the press and, perhaps out of shame in a country that claims to be especially fond of domestic animals, this story tended to be relegated to silence and oblivion.

Only now have things settled down a bit with a memorial in Hyde Park to the animals killed in war; His epitaph ends with the graphic phrase “They had no choice.” Kean herself explains it: “People don’t like to remember that at the first hint of war we went out to kill the kitten”.


BBC/Bonzo’s War. Animals Under Fire 1939 -1945 (Clare Campbell and Christy Campbell)/Dogs of Courage. When Britain’s Pets Went to War 1939–45 (Clare Campbell)/The Great Cat and Dog Massacre. The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy (Hilda Kean) / Wikipedia.