It happened in Britain at the beginning of World War II. Right before war was declared on September 3, 1939, a government pamphlet led to a massive cull of British pets.
Clare Campbell recounts the incident in The Daily Mail:
As the air-raid sirens sounded for the first time and families hastily covered up their windows with black-out curtains, countless cats and dogs were shooed out into the street, or tied up in sacks to be thrown in canals or dumped in back streets and alleyways.
It is estimated that as many as three quarters of a million adored pets were destroyed in the first week of the war.
In the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of war, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed. It drafted a notice, Advice to Animal Owners, which read in part, “If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.” It concluded, “If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.”
Whatever happened to the notion of the British as animal lovers?
As a new book entitled Bonzo‘s War: Animals Under Fire 1939 -1945, written by Clare Campbell with Christy Campbell, recounts, a year later, in September 1940, the first bombing of London prompted even more pet owners to rush to have their pets destroyed.
Basically, the government had persuaded the British that putting down the family pet was a patriotic and humane thing to do. The reasoning was that people needed all the food they could get, and there were no extra rations for pets.
The government sent out MI5 agents to watch animal rights activists, considered the mass euthanasia of all ‘non-essential animals,’ sponsored a clandestine anti-dog hate campaign and sanctioned the criminal prosecutions of cat owners for giving their pets saucers of milk.
The day Hitler invaded Poland, a BBC broadcast confirmed it was official policy that pets would not be given shelter. Panic-stricken people flocked to their vets’ offices seeking euthanization for their pets.
That night, distressed animals cast out by their owners roamed the blacked-out streets, and five days of mass destruction followed.
London Zoo was also decimated. The black widow spiders and poisonous snakes were killed, as were a manatee, six Indian fruit bats, seven Nile crocodiles, a muntjac and two American alligators. Two lion cubs were put down, too.
As these animals were being destroyed, others were being drafted into war. In America, as in Britain, the military recruited civilian dogs, as opposed to raising their own dogs like they do now, and rather than kill them off, some families were encouraged to give up their pets and send them into combat overseas.
Elephants, dogs, cats and pigeons, even chickens, were all recruited to help in the war effort, and many of them died.
At least there is a memorial in London’s Hyde Park to honor their service. The memorial has two separate inscriptions. The first and larger one reads: “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” The second, smaller inscription simply reads: “They had no choice.”
Close by, you can read these words:
Many and various animals were employed to support British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns over the centuries, and as a result millions died. From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten.
Until now, the enormous destruction of pets during World War II has been ignored. Now that we know the truth, we can honor the memory of all the animals who sacrificed their lives for the good of the World War II cause, as well as the hero animals who gave their lives in the course of duty.
In both instances, we humans stand guilty of manipulating our animal friends for our own good. They rely on us to protect them, and in World War II we let them down badly.
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