Killed with Kindness…

Thumbing through a dog-eared paperback about daily life during the war, I came upon an irresistible chapter headed ‘A Tin Hat for the Budgie’ about the effects of the war on animals.

I was staggered to read an RSPCA statistic of 1939 that in the first few days of the war in Greater London, 400,000 dogs and cats were destroyed. The reason given for this mass extermination was that the owners were prepared to endure the bombing themselves, but were not prepared to expose their pets to it – an extreme and irrevocable decision for a so-called animal-loving people. These owners must have missed the RSPCA pamphlet Air Raid Precautions for Animals, and it is as well for me that babes in arms were spared this over-solicitude.

The rest of the chapter made happier reading, and reinforced my belief that many animals are, at least, as intelligent as their owners. The stories of two wartime dogs, Rex and Sheila, illustrate my point.

At the wail of the air raid siren a mongrel dog called Rex would take responsibility for getting his elderly female owner and her next-door-neighbour together with their gas masks into their shared Anderson shelter. Once they were settled in their deck chairs, Rex would take up his post in the shelter doorway to guard them from invaders. When the ‘All Clear’ sounded, he shepherded the pair back to their houses. He accomplished this by a series of pulls and pushes and would not take ‘No’ for an answer.

Now there’s an example of intelligence and devotion. Thank goodness Rex escaped the purge of the first three days of war.

The following is a shining example of canine determination to carry on as usual in wartime. A perky Scottish terrier called Sheila produced a litter of four puppies after a wartime love affair with a Cairn terrier. Her owners dedicated their dried egg and dried milk ration for a month to enable Sheila to rear her litter.

As a postscript to this little tale Sheila, to show her appreciation of her owners’ sacrifice, scoffed the family’s weekly meat allowance, which had been left on the doorstep by the butcher’s boy. The owners maintained that Sheila would never have stolen food from the house, but finding the food at her level, she must have regarded it as a gift from the gods. There’s a touching example of man as a dog’s best friend!

I hope Sheila’s progeny down the years have been lucky enough to find devoted owners, and that Rex kicked over his devotional traces for at least one fruitful wartime romance.

To all animal lovers, don’t take ‘kill with kindness’ too literally.

Sarah McLelland