Sick and brave animals pluck the heartstrings of the U3A in Bude

Due to a last minute change of programme we were very glad to welcome to the Parkhouse Centre Sarah Guy who was able to bring forward her talk, planned for March, on the wonderful work of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals.

PDSA is the UK’s leading veterinary charity. It was founded by Maria Dickin, daughter of a Wesleyan minister, who worked as a volunteer in the slums of London’s East End with impoverished families.  Born in 1870, the eldest of eight, she married her cousin, an accountant, and had no children of her own but was devoted to her Yorkshire terrier.  When advanced age and disease led to it being humanely put to sleep, Maria realised that only the wealthy could afford to see a vet; there was nowhere for the poor to go to relieve their pets’ suffering.  She determined to make it her mission to make affordable veterinary treatment available to all, since pets are equally loved and valued no matter what the owners’ income level.

She opened her first dispensary in a basement in Whitechapel and it was so successful that within a few years she had a fleet of mobile dispensaries, including her original converted horse drawn gypsy caravan, travelling throughout the country. Nowadays PDSA operates through 48 animal hospitals and many more vet practices, delivering over two million treatments to sick and injured animals.  Treatment is still free to those in receipt of Housing or Council Tax Benefit, although owners are asked to make a donation of whatever they can afford.  Sarah brought some extremely moving short films showing some of the truly appalling injuries treated, the most affecting being horrific acid burns on Ruby the little cat, whose life had hung in the balance for several weeks needing round the clock nursing.

Maria Dickin instituted the PDSA Dickin Medal in 1943 to honour ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ by animals in military conflict or civil emergency, sometimes referred to as the Victoria Cross for animals.  Since then seventy medals have been awarded, the vast majority to homing pigeons.  Recent local news tells of Mary, who has been remembered in a blue plaque in her home town of Exeter.  She was wounded three times, by enemy falcons and gunfire, and went missing for ten days but always completed her missions.

Over the years eighteen dogs have been honoured, three horses including Warrior the original War Horse, and just one cat, Simon, who served on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident of 1949, raising morale by surviving shrapnel wounds and guarding the food supplies by killing off an infestation of river rats. He was granted the rank of Able Seacat and is buried in the pet cemetery in Ilford, originally opened by Maria Dickin, along with twelve other brave recipients of the medal.  Each year an Armed Services wreath is laid on the grave on Remembrance Day.

Most of the funding for the £60million per year cost of the PDSA comes from legacies, with the rest from their charity shops and donations.  There is at present a free will-making service offered by some solicitors, and Sarah said that PDSA office staff should be able to provide the names of participating firms.

For news about the U3A activities, open monthly meetings and coffee mornings, please visit the website www.budeu3a.co.uk.  The next meeting will be at the Parkhouse Centre on Thursday 15 February, when Roy Wood will talk about How to Enjoy a Healthy and Wealthy Retirement, a subject of particular interest to most of us!  For any further information, please contact Ann Tizzard, Membership Secretary, on 01409 253749.

Lindsey Sandilands