In the late twentieth century animals are news. Parliamentary debates, protests against fox hunting and television programs like AnimalHospital all focus on the way in which we treat animals and on what that says about our own humanity. As vegetarianism becomes ever more popular, and animal experimentation more controversial, it is time to trace the background to contemporary debates and to situate them in a broader historical context.
Hilda Kean looks at the cultural and social role of animals from 1800 to the present – at the way in which visual images and myths captured the popular imagination and encouraged sympathy for animals and outrage at their exploitation. From early campaigns against the beating of cattle and ill-treatment of horses to concern for dogs in war and cats in laboratories, she explores the relationship between popular images and public debate and action. She also illustrates how interest in animal rights and welfare was closely aligned with campaigns for political and social reform by feminists, radicals and socialists.
"A thoughtful, effective and well-written book"—The Scotsman
"It could hardly be more timely, and its wonderful material is bound to provoke ... reflection"—The Independent
"A work of great interest"—Sunday Telegraph
"Lively, impressively researched, and well-written ... a book that is timely and valuable"—Times Literary Supplement
"A pleasing balance of anecdote and analysis"—Times Higher Educational Supplement
The tragedies of World War II are well known. But at least one has been forgotten: in September 1939, four hundred thousand cats and dogs were massacred in Britain. The government, vets, and animal charities all advised against this killing. So why would thousands of British citizens line up to voluntarily euthanize household pets?
In The Great Cat and Dog Massacre, Hilda Kean unearths the history, piecing together the compelling story of the life—and death—of Britain’s wartime animal companions. She explains that fear of imminent Nazi bombing and the desire to do something to prepare for war led Britons to sew blackout curtains, dig up flower beds for vegetable patches, send their children away to the countryside—and kill the family pet, in theory sparing them the suffering of a bombing raid. Kean’s narrative is gripping, unfolding through stories of shared experiences of bombing, food restrictions, sheltering, and mutual support. Soon pets became key to the war effort, providing emotional assistance and helping people to survive—a contribution for which the animals gained government recognition.
Drawing extensively on new research from animal charities, state archives, diaries, and family stories, Kean does more than tell a virtually forgotten story. She complicates our understanding of World War II as a “good war” fought by a nation of “good” people. Accessibly written and generously illustrated, Kean’s account of this forgotten aspect of British history moves animals to center stage—forcing us to rethink our assumptions about ourselves and the animals with whom we share our homes.