Minor British Institutions: The PDSA

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The Independent Online

This National Health Service for animals was founded in 1917 (tellingly British – the human version took another 31 years to get going), and is the legacy of the pioneering feminist and campaigner Maria Dickin (1870-1951).

It was her social work in the east end of London that brought her into contact with the neglect and maltreatment of animals there: pets as well as working beasts such as horses and donkeys. In her words, "The suffering and misery of these poor, uncared-for creatures in our overcrowded areas was a revelation to me. I had no idea it existed, and it made me indescribably miserable." So she set up her charity and devoted her life to it.

Today it is needed as much as ever, sadly, and is the largest private employer of fully qualified veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in Europe. The Dickin Medal and the PDSA Gold Medal are recognised as awards for bravery for animals serving with armed forces, routinely ridiculed by those who can have no idea what it must be like to take a mule through the mud of Burma. In all its activities, the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals remains an extremely worthy cause.