This article looks at the early history of British cat rescue, and some of the benefactors of the early organisations.


In September 1882, Mrs Mary Anne Kennett left £6000 in her will to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among other animal-related causes. This was not for food or shelter, but rather for “mercifully” killing the animals, there being little else to offer the sick and starving hordes of stray and abandoned cats in British towns and cities. Fearing that her own cat might become a stray, she also ordered it to be chloroformed (the most humane method then available) after her death. The monetary bequests were provisional on the amount left at the death of her husband, Richard Barlow Kennett, but judging from his own charitable contributions (including free provision of humane cattle-slaughtering equipment to several abattoirs during 1884) the societies probably got the full amounts. Richard Kennett died during 1890 and his house was auctioned.

Edinburgh Evening News, Friday 20th October 1882: The will of Mrs Mary Ann Kennett, late of Petersfield, Hants, was proved on the inst., the value the personal estate exceeding £18,000. The testatrix leaves all her property upon trust for her husband for life : at his death, she bequeaths £6000 to the Royal Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals; £2000 to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association : £1000 to the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs ; £2000 to the churchwardens of the parish of Petersfield, the interest and dividends be distributed twice a year in money, blankets, coals, etc., among the poor of the said parish. The testatrix desires her husband to kill her favourite cat with chloroform immediately after her death.

The Ipswich Journal, Tuesday 30th January 1883: THE COMMITTEE of the LONDON ANTI-VIVISECTION SOCIETY feel assured that all sympathisers in the Anti-Vivisection movement will be greatly encouraged to learn that Mr. Richard Barlow Kennett's noble offer has been realised through the raising of the Special Fund of £1,000 by the appointed time. The Committee desire to EXPRESS their very warm THANKS to Mr. KENNETT and to every contributor. Office, 180, Brompton Road, M. Walbrook, Secretary, to whom all communications may be addressed, and of whom may be had, free, a form of petition to Parliament for the Prohibition of Vivisection, and a list of publications on the subject.

Dublin Daily Express, Friday 16th February 1883: IRISH SOCIETY FOR THE ABOLITION OF VIVISECTION. The committee of this society met on Tuesday, the 13th inst, at the office of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Westmoreland-street. Dublin - the Rev T A McKee, D D, in the chair - to consider communications addressed to the bon secretary (Miss Swifte), by Richard Barlow Kennett, Esq. of Petersfield, Hants, in which he offered to give £500 for each the following objects, provided similar sums were contributed within a year for the same purposes, viz: 1. For the abolition of vivisection. 2. For a house of refuge for lost and starving dogs and cats. 3. For the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
They passed the following resolution : Resolved—That believing the establishment of a dogs and cats home and the fuller development of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals are of more urgent consequence and importance at the present moment, and considering the many pressing claims on the public for the relief of distress and other matters, the committee are of opinion they could not consistently make an appeal for the sum necessary to enable them to claim Mr Kennett’s generous offer for this society, and, therefore, forego it in favour of the two other objects named by him, viz—The establishment of dogs’ and cats’ home, and the Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals, in the hope that the sums required to authorize the Committee of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to claim Mr Kennett's munificent offer for these two objects may be contributed by the public, and that copy of this resolution, with expression of the committee’s strong sense of obligation and thanks, be sent to Mr Kennett for his kind offer.

Dublin Daily Express, Saturday 16th June 1883: CRUELTY TO ANIMALS—EARNEST AND URGENT APPEAL. The Committee of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have been offered by Richard Barlow Kennett, Esq, Peterfield, Hants, £500 towards the General Funds of the Society, provided they can obtain contributions the same amount within a year. And also a further sum of £500 for the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs and Cats on the same conditions. They earnestly appeal to the public for special Donations to enable them to avail of these munificent offers. Contributors will please state when forwarding their contributions that they are towards the “Kennett” Offering for “Dogs’ Home,” or for general objects, as the case may be. The sums must be made up within twelve months. Should the entire sum required by Mr Kennett’s conditions be not made within the time, and that he will not consequently make his grant, the sums specially given towards this object will be returned to the contributors. Contributions may be lodged in the Munster Bank (Limited), Dame street ; or Ball’s Bank, Henry street ; or sent the Honorary Treasurer. William Pen in, 50 Lower Sackville street, or paid into the Office. By Order, THOMAS F BRADY, Hon Secretary. Office of the Society, 36 Westmoreland street, Dublin. 1st March. 1883.

St James's Gazette, Tuesday 27th May 1884: CRUELTY TO ANIMALS. Mr. RICHARD BARLOW KENNETT has made the following benevolent OFFER to the Committee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:—“l will give £1,000 to the R.S.P.C.A., on an equal sum being collected by or from any other person or persons, and I hereby authorize your noble-hearted society to announce this.” The Committee earnestly APPEAL to the public for DONATIONS of any amounts, to enable them to secure the above-proffered support.—Remit to the Secretary, 105, Jermyn-street, London, S.W,

Hampshire Chronicle, Saturday, 6th December 1884: MUNIFICENT OFFER. Mr. Richard Barlow Kennett has made a generous offer to the Committee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He offers £5000 to the Society if they can get two other £5000 in any sums, in two months, and also £1000 on the same conditions. Mr. Kennett will also give £1000 to the Society on an equal sum being collected by the Committee from any other person or persons; and he authorises this noble-hearted Society ”to make this announcement.” It would a great calamity (says the Animal World) not to realise Mr. Kennett’s benevolence. The Committee urgently appeal for help in donations of any amounts, which may be sent to the Secretary, 105, Jermyn-street, London.

St James's Gazette , Thursday 1st January 1885: A MUNIFICENT OFFER AND AN APPEAL FOR HELP. Mr. RICHARD BARLOW KENNETT has made the following GENEROUS OFFER to the Committee of the R.S.P.C.A.: Dear Mr. Colam, I hereby offer £5,000 to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals if you can get, and will get, two other fives (5000s] in any sums in two months; and £1000 also upon the same conditions.” The same gentleman has also written as follows: 1 will give £1000 to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on an equal sum being collected by you from any other person or persons, and I hereby authorize your noble-hearted society to announce this.” It would be a great calamity not to realize Mr. Kennett's benevolence. The Committee Urgently APPEAL for HELP, in donations of any amounts, which may be sent to the Secretary, 105, Jermyn-street.

Kent & Sussex Courier - Wednesday 07 September 1887: TUNBRIDGE WELLS SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS. This society has just issued its thirteenth annual report. [. . .] After describing the works done in the Bands of Mercy in the town and neighbourhood, the report goes on refer to the Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, the money subscribed for this object to meet the generous offer of Mr Richard Barlow Kennett (which, including the £20 given him amounts to £80), is now on deposit in the London and County Bank. Some such refuge is greatly needed. The Pound is very limited in its accommodation [. . .] the at present Society finds difficulty in dealing with the poor strays, of whom about twenty dogs and twelve cats came under their care last year and were maintained (chiefly at the private cost of a few individuals), until owners or new homes were found for them, or the old and diseased ones were killed. Some were “boarded out,” but the present arrangement tor them is purely provisional.

To put it in a historical context, there were around 80,000 to 100,000 cats in the West End of Victorian London. Hydrophobia (rabies) existed in Britain. According to a letter in the London Evening Standard, Tuesday 23rd July 1889: “Hydrophobia, [the Home Secretary] tells us, can be transmitted, and we know is transmitted, through the scratch or bite of a cat, but at the same time he admits the impossibility of carrying out an order for putting " puss in boots " or Muzzles. [While dogs are muzzled, but ] cats go unmuzzled, Hydrophobia, cannot be stamped out. “

Although male cats might be castrated (without pain relief), spaying of females was not a possibility and unwanted kittens were routinely drowned … or the mother and offspring were turned out to make their own way. Small wonder that the Dogs and Cats Homes and the RSPCA were in the business of killing strays, not rescuing them. In addition, owners sent sick or unwanted animals to the shelters to be killed humanely in the lethal chamber. The ones killed by the animal societies were the lucky ones. Cat fur was a valuable commodity and cats were often skinned alive in the belief it preserved the lustre of the fur.


Queen Victoria was a patron of the London Institution for Lost and Starving Cats at Ferdinand Street, Camden Town. This has been was founded by Mrs Morgan in 1896. It received 300 cats per week on average. The sorry state of these cats meant that every day, "several wretched cats" were found to be beyond help and were destroyed on admission. 80% of cats were destroyed within 24 hours. Many would have been admitted with distemper, others would have been starving, abused or injured. Members of the public could also take their cats there for euthanasia.

Queen Victoria's Danish-born daughter-in-law, Alexandra, Princess of Wales, was another subscriber to animal welfare societies and, unlike her husband, Edward (later King Edward VII) she was a cat lover. When Alexandra became associated with the animal welfare advocate Zoe de Longueville, King Edward VII apparently called in Scotland Yard to investigate whether his wife was a secret cat-rescuer.

Tamworth Herald, Saturday 7th April 1894: THE PRINCESS OF WALES AND LOST CATS AND DOGS. At the annual meeting of the supporters of the London Home for lost and starving dogs it was reported that the number of dogs taken to the home last year was 16,383. Homes had been found for 3,125 of this large number of dogs - 1,963 bad been sold, and 1,162 dogs had been restored to their owners. Four hundred and eighty-two old or diseased dogs were brought into the home by private persons who desired them to be put to a painless death in the lethal chamber. Altogether, 417 cats had been received, 215 as boarders and 202 as strays The chairman informed the meeting that he had received a letter from the Princess of Wales acknowledging the receipt of a copy of the last annual report, and intimating her willingness not only to become a patron, but also a subscriber to the institution.



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