Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226318325 Published March 2017
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The Great Cat and Dog Massacre

The Real Story of World War Two's Unknown Tragedy

Hilda Kean

The Great Cat and Dog Massacre

Hilda Kean

248 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226318325 Published March 2017
E-book $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226318462 Published March 2017
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.
Review Quotes
New York Times Book Review
“Kean’s snapshots of life during wartime are engaging. . . . Her book suggests that history should acknowledge ‘everybody’ to include bodies with four legs as well as two.”
Wall Street Journal
“The tremendous loss of human life during World War II has made this episode an unsuitable one to criticize. Kean’s book brings to light an uncomfortable chapter in British history.”
Jerry White, author of London in the Twentieth Century: A City and Its People
“This is a brilliant telling of an important but neglected story of Britain’s ‘People's War.’ Kean's reconstruction of the unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of thousands of pet animals at the outbreak of war will live long in the reader’s memory. But it is matched by her meticulous recovery of the changing aspect of animal-human relations throughout the remaining six years of conflict.”
Carol J. Adams, author The Sexual Politics of Meat
“This is a profoundly important book. Like a piece of paper folded into origami, it reveals new dimensions to a tragic subject. It reshapes our historical understanding by giving us a remarkable model of cross-species inclusivity. I want to start reading it all over again to see just how Kean pulled this off.”
Harriet Ritvo, author most recently of Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History
“Beginning with the mass slaughter of household pets immediately after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939, Kean’s compelling account explores the varied ways in which domesticated animals experienced the Home Front. With the exception of what contemporaries criticized as ‘the holocaust of pets,’ most of these experiences were shared by human and non-human animals. By retrieving evidence of the lives of individual companion animals, as well as by documenting the increasing official acknowledgment of their value and standing, Kean offers a fresh perspective on what has often been called the ‘People’s War.’”
Richard Overy, author of The Bombing War: Europe 1939–1945
“For those who think everything has been said about Britain’s war, here is a book that will change our perspective on the popular image of the British people calmly coping with the challenges of the home front. Kean not only brings animals into the wartime narrative in their own right, but challenges the way historians have treated the wartime experience. This is a remarkably rich and detailed history, not only reconstructing the unknown story of the animal massacre, but in the process offering a profound view of the way animals and humans interact.”
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