NEWS AND OPINION/COMMENT: In her memoir, “I’ll Try Anything Once”, Dame Prue Leith has admitted that her mother, Margaret Inglis, an actress, told her to drown newborn kittens because they were unwanted. Leith states: “My mother and I, then 11, had just drowned some kittens and for weeks I imagined those poor dead creatures. Too many kittens were a frequent occurrence and there had come a day when my mother, unable to find homes for yet another litter, decided to drown the latest batch. My protests were met with a firm, ‘Darling, it has to be done. They are only a few hours old. They will hardly know it’s happening'”.
Her mother thought that the kittens would hardly know what’s going on. She is implying that they wouldn’t feel pain. She is also implying that it was humane to kill them in this way. Wrong and wrong.
There appears to be no acknowledgement that her mother, with the help of her daughter, Prue Leith, could have spayed and neutered the cats in their care. We don’t know from the news media how many cats they had or whether they were living in or around their home. Clearly there was a lot of carelessness going on in relation to these cats.
This was South Africa. Between the age of 5-17, Prue Leith attended Saint Mary’s School Waverley, an English independent private boarding school for girls in Johannesburg run by Anglican nuns.
This kitten killing took place in South Africa where, it has to be admitted, there is a different culture with respect to animals compared to, let’s say, Europe. But nonetheless it was an entirely ignorant act to kill them in this cruel way.
There was no reason for it. There were better proactive alternatives which could have been taken with a bit of common sense and thought.
Prue Leith states that her mother didn’t see the need to hold the bag of kittens underwater for long in order to “send them to sleep”. Disturbingly, Prue Leith states that the kittens “fought like the devil for life”. Note the euphemism ‘send to sleep’. It means to kill. Killing is painful.
That brings to mind an horrendous picture, one which is very disturbing to me. It is the kind of image that is hard to erase from one’s mind.
One comment on the news item page states that back in the 1950s a lot of people did this kind of thing i.e., kill kittens out of ignorance about the other available options: to spay and neuter the cats. Perhaps there was a cost problem. Although I doubt that very much because I don’t think that Prue Leith’s family was poor. She went to university in South Africa.
Although in general you might understand it if poor people kill newborn kittens in this way, it cannot be justified under any circumstances by anybody because there is always a better way which is proactive.
There is a further question as to whether Prue Leith, who 11 years of age at the time, should have had the presence of mind to refuse her mother’s request or demand. Does a child of 11 have to agree with their mother’s demands when those demands are immoral and inhumane and possibly illegal? They would certainly be illegal in the UK today. The act would not have been illegal in South Africa at the time. There’s no doubt about that in my mind.
But certainly, immoral and I think the age of 11 is sufficient to be able to understand that this was an immoral act. She was a smart child. In fact, Prue Leith impliedly admits that killing the kittens was very wrong because she says that the act of killing the kittens was a “traumatic experience” which plagued her for weeks afterwards.
Another point that needs to be made: Margaret Inglis, the mother asked her daughter to kill a litter of kittens. That was a shameful act. It probably damaged Prue Leith if not for a period of time perhaps permanently. It was horrendous parenting.
No one can blame the child for carrying out her mother’s demands because a child is really not in a position mentally and developmentally to resist their parent’s demands, but it would have been nice if she had under these extreme circumstances.
P.S. In the UK, Dame Prue Leith is very well known perhaps famous mainly recently because she was a judge on BBC 2’s Great British Menu for 11 years before joining The Great British Bake off in March 2017, replacing Mary Berry. She is described as a restaurant, chef, caterer and presenter/broadcaster and journalist.