April is National Pet Month which aims to celebrate the joy that pets bring to their owners.

As long as pets have been around, so, unfortunately, has cruelty and neglect. It’s a shame that charities such as the RSPCA and the PDSA are still needed but it’s reassuring to know they are there.

And they have been there for many years across south Essex.

We often think of animal welfare as a 21st century cause but as these photographs show, even almost a century ago in Southend, the issue of animals cruelty was an important one.

Echo: Hero - Eric Collins (centre left) receives his medal at the garden party after rescuing a dogHero - Eric Collins (centre left) receives his medal at the garden party after rescuing a dog (Image: Archive)

Three of the photographs come from the 1930 annual meeting of the Southend Branch of the RSPCA. The event, held at Bridge House in Prittlewell, doubled as a garden party and local people who were passionate about the treatment of animals were invited along.

Among the attendees was Eric Beeson Collins of Cliff Avenue, Westcliff who was presented with a medal (as well as the gift of a fountain pen) for rescuing a dog a month earlier.

Mr Collins (who is pictured receiving his medal) had found the large dog impaled on some spiked railings in Priory Park and had taken it down and carried it to safety.

Earlier in 1930 new rules had been brought in which meant owners needed to pay for licences for their dogs.

As predicted, this resulted in a great many dogs being abandoned – 33 dogs in fact had to be put to sleep by the RSPCA branch in Southend that year.

Echo: A PDSA mobile hand cart which served Southend in the charity’s early yearsA PDSA mobile hand cart which served Southend in the charity’s early years (Image: Archive)

No less than 60 cats had also been painlessly euthanised by the charity, as had three horses, one donkey and one pig.

The year had seen 100 complaints being made in Southend about the mistreatment of animals and 103 cautions being given to culprits including 16 convictions for animal cruelty.

Long before 1930, however, the RSPCA had been actively hunting animal abusers in Southend.

In 1891, an RSPCA inspector visited the Southend Regatta after fears were raised that the popular ‘walk the greasy pole’ event was cruel.

Participants were encouraged to walk the pole in order to reach a box containing a pig and pair of ducks.

A local newspaper reported on the incident: “Inspector Clarke of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cautioned the officials, however, against putting the ducks and pig in the box, but as the caution was ignored in the case of the pig, the inspector obtained the names and addresses of the chief officials with the view of prosecuting them for alleged cruelty.”

Fines handed to Kursaal bosses and clergyman fined

One of the RSPCA’s biggest local cases occurred in 1903 when the owner of the Kursaal in Southend was hauled to court accused of mistreating a number of animals in the attraction’s menagerie.

The keeper of the menagerie was said to have withheld food from the animals, including Russian wolves, the hyenas and the lions.

The wolves were in such a bad state they were described as ‘emaciated’ and ‘all lame’. Two were so weak they were unable to walk.

The lion cubs were also in a bad way and the lioness was said to be ‘clearly suffering from asthma’.

The court heard how when it was feeding time, if the lion cubs tried to get food they would be attacked by the tiger! Fines were handed to the Kursaal bosses over the incident.

In May of 1933 the RSPCA even prosecuted a Southend clergyman after he shot a cat with an air rifle, after unsuccessfully trying to set a dog on the animal.

Echo: Cruel behaviour - the clergyman and cat case from 1933Cruel behaviour - the clergyman and cat case from 1933 (Image: Archive)

The Rev Diereck Willink from Shoeburyness, was fined £3 for causing unnecessary suffering to the cat which had annoyed him by coming into his garden.

Gordon Jones, prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA even showed his dismay at the actions of the church leader. “Mr. Willink is a clergyman, and I have tried to find some mitigating circumstance and I cannot,” he said in court.

Then in October 1961 the animal charity was galvanised into action after 101 monkeys died while on a flight from Nairobi in Kenya to Southend Airport.

The RSPCA launched a huge investigation after the monkeys arrived at Southend in crates – amongst a cargo of 350.

A total of 101 had suffocated to death and the monkeys that had survived were taken to an RSPCA hospital in London.

The monkeys had been sent on the 4,500-mile trip so they could be sent onto various zoos across Europe and America.

An RSPCA spokesman described it as one of the worst cases of animal mortality he had even seen.

Another major animal charity – the PDSA – which started out known as the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals – has been active across south Essex for decades.

The first mention of a PDSA site in South Essex was in the ‘1928 Annual Review,’ which listed a PDSA Medical Centre at 30/32 Broadway in Southend. Sometime between 1932 and 1937 the medical centre move to Southchurch Road, then in 1948 it moved again to York Road, Southend.

By the Second World War the charity was busier than ever in Southend as more and more pet owners were forced to give up their pets due to food rationing while a number of animals were injured in air raids.