Guest Post BK

Shooters Hill has been described as a street full of hospitals; most of them connected with the area’s strong military presence. One of these hospitals, until the 1950s, was the Blue Cross Animal Hospital, by what is now Hornfair Park.

Quarantine Kennels

Quarantine Kennels

In 1899, a local army veterinary officer set up private kennels in Hope Villas, Shooters Hill Road, which were situated directly opposite The Fox Under The Hill. The main purpose of the kennels was to board the dogs of officers on maneuvers or fighting in the second Boer War.

The ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ was set up in 1897 to combat animal cruelty; in particular the exploitation of working horses. The League rapidly expanded and in 1905 a local branch was formed in Blackheath. In1909 they gained national publicity when Earnest Shackleton had to leave the dogs that he had used on his polar expeditions there.

As it grew it set up a number of special funds; among these was the Blue Cross Fund which was created to look after animals harmed during the second Balkan War of 1912. The outbreak of The First World War gave the hospital an expanded role in caring for the dogs of servicemen sent overseas. In 1919, 285 dogs were quarantined, to be visited regularly by their owners.

By 1919 The ODFL had sufficient funds to enable them to take over the lease of Hope Villas. Dynamic fund-raising by The League from appeals, flag days and door-to-door collections, together with special events such as a dinner with Princess Louise at Woolwich Town Hall which raised the sum of £450, enabled The League to buy the freehold in 1925. They then built new kennels and runs to hold up to 180 dogs.

The fund-raising continued; including a special promotional film which was shown at local cinemas, and in 1926 a hospital was opened on the site. 250 operations were performed in its first year.

Sailor reunited with his dog

Sailor reunited with his dog

The threat of war in 1938 meant that many wealthy people considered leaving their London residences and moving to the country. They sought the help of the kennels to look after their pets in the interim. The League had to issue a stern lecture. ‘We urge all these enquirers not to be stampeded into premature action. Many were hastening into the comparative safety of the country in cars piled high with their belongings and only stopped long enough to hand over their dogs and cats until the situation improved or the worst happened, in which case they were to be destroyed forthwith. There seemed to be little of the spirit of unruffled fortitude which kept the public carrying on as usual without fear or panic in 1914’. So much for all that Keep Calm And Carry On we are bombarded with nowadays!

Soldier reunited with his dog

Soldier reunited with his dog

Another role the kennels took on in the build up to 1939 was the boarding of the animals of refugees fleeing from Europe. The League received many appeals such as the following. ‘We two children have got permission to emigrate to England. But we can’t come because we must leave our dog Barbara alone. We have brought her up and she has become accustomed to us in such a way that she would fret if we should leave her. But also we are not able to live without her. We know that Barbara will be quarantined for the first half of the year but we have not sufficient money to pay for her keep. We are very poor children and we love Barbara who would die if we abandoned her’. Of course, Barbara was taken in, as were many other ‘foreign’ dogs .Other famous residents include the dogs of Emperor Haile Salassie of Ethopia who had to stay there when their owner was exiled.

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After the war, the kennels maintained their general boarding and medical responsibilities, but in 1957 The Blue Cross announced their intention of closing them. They claimed that it was cheaper for The League to purchase treatment from private vet hospitals than to keep their own facility open. (This is now a strangely familiar argument!). A travelling van would be provided as a replacement. A mobile animal surgery would park daily behind Shooters Hill Police Station until 1972, when it was discontinued.

Pet Cemetery Shooters Hill

All that is left is the adjacent Pet Cemetery which contains about 240 graves of dogs who died at the kennels, including many pets of WWII veterans. The cemetery, which is now owned by Greenwich Council, fell into disrepair but has recently been adopted by The Friends Of The Pet Cemetery Group (FOPC). They hope to clean it up and restore the grave stones, most of which have been flattened. It is still opposite The Fox under the Hill public house in Shooters Hill Road.

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