The Government Advice That Scared 750,000 Britons Into Euthanizing Their Pets 

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Jan. 7 2014 1:45 PM

The Government Advice That Scared 750,000 Britons Into Euthanizing Their Pets 

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This pamphlet, distributed to concerned pet owners and keepers of domestic livestock in 1939, lists the British government’s suggested precautions for dependent animals in a time of war. In her book Bonzo’s War: Animals Under Fire, 1939-1945, journalist Clare Campbell estimates that the government’s 1939 advice, disseminated via newspapers and the BBC, scared 750,000 pet owners into euthanizing their animals.

The Home Office’s Air Raid Precautions Department, which produced the pamphlet, wanted people to get their dogs, cats, and other pets out of the cities. While the government may have had humane reasons to worry about animals, urban pets were largely seen as a potential hazard to public safety during a chaotic time.

During an emergency there might be large numbers of animals wounded, gassed, or driven frantic by fear, and destruction would then have to be enforced by the responsible authority for the protection of the public.
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People should be aware, the government warned, that “animals will be prohibited from entering the shelters provided for public use.” Pet owners should not count on being able to keep their animals with them.

If the reader couldn’t evacuate a pet, the Home Office recommended contacting animal welfare societies or vets, who “have widespread facilities for the humane euthanasia of small animals, and are already making arrangements to co-operate with the authorities.” Citizens heeded the advice: Campbell writes that after war broke out in September 1939, employees of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals euthanized 300,000 animals in under ten days.

Campbell writes that the cull of 1939-40 galvanized humane societies and new animal protection groups, who directed resources to evacuating and housing pets. As the Blitz wore on, dogs proved surprisingly calm under attack, and fears of feral packs were disproven. Finding food for pets became the primary challenge.

Thanks to Joseph Barrett, of Joseph's Militaria and Home Front Collection, for scanning his copy of the pamphlet for me. Click on the image below to arrive at a PDF viewer. 

PamphletImage1Final
Click to arrive at the PDF.
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