UK September 1939: Brits Kill 750,000 Companion Animals

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The Blitz
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An estimated 750,000 largely healthy pets were deliberately killed by the British during September 1939 which was the month during which Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany.

Nearly all of these companion animals were cats and dogs. A reporter at the time stated that there were 7m cats in Britain. One minute you love your cat or dog. The next, shortly after the declaration of war and notification that air-raid shelters would not accept pets, you are drowning your cat in a bag in a canal or following government instructions on how to kill your dog with a bolt gun. This tells us how brutal and panicky life became at the outbreak of the Second World War for Brits.

The government of the time actively promoted this pet massacre. It seems that cat and dog owners were indoctrinated into believing that it would be the humane thing to do to kill your cat or dog under the extreme circumstances of a full-blown war.

One fear was that cats and dogs would panic at the sound of air-raid sirens, run into the street and become contaminated with mustard gas.

When the air-raid sirens first sounded in West Ham, East London, it was the humans who panicked. They raced to the town hall to have their cherished companion animals destroyed. People abandoned their pets. Many wandered into the street to be chased down and killed. Mass slaughter took place in the town hall for five days.

London was bombed in 1940 and that prompted more cat and dog abandonments. London streets blitzed by bombs were homes from abandoned domestic cats. Feral cat and dog colonies developed. One was on Clapham Common, South London.

Local authorities organised various means of mass slaughter of stray companion animals such as cyanide, electric shocks and chloroform. It was Pet Armageddon in London Town.

Some people had their own shelters and some dogs behaved perfectly well under the circumstances. The same for cats. Some people would stay in their homes with their companion animal and survived. I expect that the most pressing dangers from bombing was in the major cities, London being the prime target.

I am sure some people simply moved to the country with their cat or dog. One gentleman stayed at home with the cats and dogs while his wife and children went to the shelter during air raids. He said he would be worried about his animals if he left them at home.

As the war progressed it appears that some sanity returned and various means were devised to save the lives of pets but food rationing resulted in the Ministry Of Food suggesting that the dog population should be reduced.

Anti-cat and anti-dog campaigns were started by government. They were eating too much and some of it was fit for human consumption. They were the enemy of survival.

It was a startlingly tough time for everyone but the cat and dog were extremely vulnerable. It was a time of life and death for all and for more than three-quarters of a million companion animals the first days of the war meant death.

Source: Bonzo’s War: Bonzo’s War: Animals Under Fire 1939-1945 via the Daily Mail.

17 thoughts on “UK September 1939: Brits Kill 750,000 Companion Animals”

  1. Much like someone trying to take over a plane today would meet with a mob of passengers beating them into submission so would an order to have your pets mass euthanized.
    It is a very good idea to have a 30 day supply of pet food for each animal in your care.

  2. I too never knew any of this, not even from my aunties who always told me stories of their lives during the war.

    I would move heaven and earth to keep my cats with me or at least find them a place of safety.

    It would be interesting to know more about the impact that the extermination of cats and dogs had on the rodent population in those early days.

    • Good point about rodents, Leah. As I recall, later on in the war when there was less panic, cats were retained to kill rodents and they were rewarded with powdered milk! The wrong thing but in those days people did not realise that you can’t give cats cow’s milk. It was estimated that 40 million gallons of milk was consumed by cats before the war and it milk was banned for cats during the war. I bet they were healthier for it 😉

      The authorities realised that cats serve a very useful purpose in keeping down rodent populations. Once again it is a reminder that feral cats in the USA do the same but it appears that only a few people realise it.


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