Agony of the Animals

PDSA Animal's Magazine March 1953

Hundreds of terrified Animals rescued by P.D.S.A in Flood Areas


Loading dingy into one of the Essex Caravans

Thousands of helpless and terrified animals in the flood areas were trapped by the sudden inrush of the sea. Many were drowned before help could reach them. The pitiable plight of the survivors, terrified and bewildered by their experiences, some marooned and starving in empty houses or on isolated stretches of high ground and little islands cut off from the mainland by raging seas, was one of the most harrowing features of a disaster as tragic and heartrending as any which has befallen this country for many years.


Immediately the first reports of the Canvey flooding were received from our Southend Dispensary on Sunday, Ist February, a mobile dispensary was rushed to the Island. Within minutes of its arrival the crew was in action and that night the first van load of refugees was taken back to the Sanatorium at Ilford.

Rescue party rowing through the flood

On Monday, early reports showed that the floods were more wide­spread than Sunday’s news had indicated and instructions were given for the immediate despatch of another mobile dispensary and a stores van to Canvey and mobile dispensaries and rescue units to Mablethorpe, Jaywick, and Whit­stable. It was found that the Chatham Caravan was already in action in the last-named area. Later an ambulance was despatched to the Tidal Basin district where heavy flooding was reported.

Working tirelessly, often up to their waists in water and amidst nightmare scenes of tragedy and desolation, rescue units were not only able to save the lives of hundreds of animals but to feed and give first aid to hundreds more not in immediate danger.


Chief AdministrativeSupt. (Centre) and assistants bring some rescued cats to caravan

The following brief extracts from reports received from those in charge of rescue operations provide, perhaps, a more vivid picture of conditions under which our rescue units worked and the appalling desolation which surrounded them than can any amount of journalistic embroidery.

Canvey    (Supt. H Dobson)

“Unspeakable chaos. Vast areas flooded to depth of 4 ft. and more. Hundreds of animals drowned, others starving and in pitiable state. Reception centre established opposite Haystack lnn. Empty bungalow lent by resident for animal Rest Centre. Many animal owners fighting their way back through flood to find their animals. Numerous bodies of both humans and animals floating in the flooded streets . Food distribution centre established where owners can draw food for their animals. Daily deliveries of food being made to houses and other premises in which there are known to be animals. Boats hired or borrowed to rescue isolated animals. Saw cat crouching on roof by a broomstick to which white and kerchief attached. Entered house by upper window and found bodies of occupiers, including boy of seven. Rescued the cat. Long queues have been forming outside the caravans.”

Taking fodder to animals in isolated farm buildings on Canvey Island

Throughout the rescue operation, relays of animals, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, birds, rabbits, mostly those whose owners had been admitted to hospital, were taken back to the Sanatorium to be cared for until claimed. Before long the wards were overflowing and the Sports Club Pavilion and other buildings were brought into service. Members of the Sanatorium staff remained on duty till after midnight, receiving, feeding, and bedding down the refugees.

Mablethorpe ( Supt. F. Stevens)

“Desolation appalling. Area evac­uated. No gas water or light. Flood 4ft deep in places. Rescue workers up to their knees in water. Feeding dogs, cats, and hundreds of chickens as well as collecting the dead bodies of scores, of animals, including many chickens. One farmer has lost 140 head of poultry out of 200. Rescued two marooned donkeys  with great difficulty. At Trusthorpe, conditions even worse. Roofs off, walls and hedges down. Chicken houses afloat and scores of dead animals in the water. Inun­dated with requests to feed animals. Found swan with leg caught in mattress. Rescued three large sows and 100 head of poultry transport­ing them through 3 ft. of water. Brought in child’s body. Gave first-aid to three injured persons.”

A soggy Canvey chicken

Whitstable (Supt. K. Mures)

“Found large numbers of dead sheep on fringe of flood area. Saw several cats looking out of top windows apparently unperturbed. As they were safe and comfortable put supplies of food through the windows and left them there. Arranged Rest Centre at Shaftes­bury Society Holiday Camp, Seasalter, to which I have already transported a number of rescued animals. Several animals placed with P.D.S.A. supporters who have volunteered to house and feed them until claimed. Treated large number of cats suffering from results of sea water immersion. A Mr. Detainer has given us splendid help by rowing us out to isolated houses. Dog reported to have been found alive after three and a half days in flooded shed. He must have swum for much of this time.”

Rescued from Canvey Island

Jaywick (Supt. A. Jenkins)

“Rescue operations already well in hand. Have moved on to Harwich where no official body is operating. There is much work for us here and we have been welcomed with open arms. Local supporter of another society has opened her house for the reception of animals and has offered to take all that I can bring in. This lady is giving me splendid co-operation. Wonderful help re­ceived from members of the Fire Brigade some of whom have gone out with me and performed amazing acrobatic feats in rescuing animals from apparently inaccessible places.

Tidal Basin (Supt. C. Harris)

Canvey moggies Safe and dry

“Reminiscent of ‘Blitz’ days. Furniture, bedding, etc. piled on walls and gates. Water rose 3-4 ft. in a matter of twenty minutes. Several cats drowned. Was able to rescue 2 dogs, 6 cats and 3 chickens.”

In the prevailing conditions it proved impossible to keep a com­plete check on the number of animals rescued, fed, and treated for injuries, but some idea can be obtained from the fact that 347 animals, including 64 dogs, 199 cats, 3 horses, 30 rabbits, 41 fowls, 2 pigs, 2 geese, 2 ducks, 2 budgeri­gars, 1 canary, and 1 parrot, nearly all of which were rescued from Canvey, have been received at the Sanatorium. These figures do not include the hundreds of animals handed back to their owners or those fed or treated for injuries.

The P.D.S.A. wishes to express its gratitude for the innumerable offers of help received from the public, for the generous gifts of foodstuffs from several manufac­turers of animal foods, and for the many man expressions of appreciation which have reached it.

Canvey pigs safe and well fed

Amongst these was a tribute paid personally by Mr. Bernard Braine, M.P. for Billericay. “Many of my constituents,” he said, “have been full of praise for the prompt and effective rescue work of the P.D.S.A. You have done a marvellous job.”

The P.D.S.A. is grateful for the knowledge that it has been able to make a practical contribution to the alleviation of suffering amongst the animal victims of the flood and to lighten the burden of distress for many animal owners. May we add that we are proud of the men who did the job, the members of our rescue units who worked so tirelessly and efficiently under such difficult conditions.


With thanks to the PDSA for supplying most of the material for this page. PDSA Website can be accessed here.

Comments about this page

  • This is my Grandfather, Harry Dobson, who was a Vet at the PDSA in Woodford Bridge

    By Bridget Prescott (12/11/2015)

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