The Animal Dispensary

Continuing the story of life in the Seven Dials by Tony Hill…

As if 100 dogs weren’t enough, we had two cats, both female, Toodles, a purebred Siamese, and Popsy, a tortoise-shell and white. Toodles was brought in to the pet shop as a kitten for treatment.

I’d better explain that in those days anyone could call himself an ‘Animal Practitioner’ and treat sick animals. Most pet shops did this and provided basic care. Dad had three treatments for dogs and cats: worming powder, flea powder and Epsom salts, I believe. He also doctored tomcats and put animals to sleep. Anything more complicated he referred to Mr. Balfour-Jones, an eminent vet who lived not far from the pet shop. He also had a weekend course of treatment for overweight dogs that had lost their appetites. They were locked in the cellar with a bowl of water, a bone and a brick. When they started on the brick they were cured, and returned to their owners, who were invariably delighted by the improvement in their pet’s appetite.

Anyway, Toodles was brought in, badly undernourished, and Dad brought her home for Mum to nurse. Mum kept the kitten warm by keeping her in the jumper she was wearing and fed her warm milk through an eye-dropper. After a few weeks the kitten made a full recovery but we never saw the owners again. They, no doubt, thought the cat had died, and that they would get a bill for treatment if they returned to the shop. Both cats regularly had litters of kittens that were sold in the pet shop. Later, Dad found that even without Toodles’s pedigree it still paid to put her to stud with a Siamese tom, many people would pay enough for a Siamese kitten with only half a pedigree, partly because of the dog-like fidelity of the breed, speaking of which, Toodles, when her health returned, would bring Mum dead birds in gratitude (including sadly, my pet budgie!)

One result of the war was that the local supply of meat for cats and dogs dried up. Dad heard of a slaughterhouse in Southwick that had been closed because meat for human consumption was now, due to rationing, centrally controlled via food ministry abattoirs. Dad promptly bought the place, recruited a retired slaughter man and advertised round the county for lame horses etc. He soon became a licensed horse slaughterer himself. I don’t believe any training was required in order to be licensed, I think the price of the licence and a strong stomach were the only qualifications.

Dad sold most of the cats’ meat to kennels and other pet shops. For a while he had a retail outlet in Albion Street Southwick, but this didn’t pay well enough. Dad was concerned that if he was called up for war service the business would collapse and the family become destitute, so he took a partner, Nina Bowditch, who could run the Brighton part of the business. The pet shop was not doing well, people were not keen on buying pet animals when a German invasion was thought likely, so the pet shop became a florist, ‘Nina’s’ and afterwards a greengrocery ‘The Dials Vegetable Market’ was opened as well, in Prestonville Road, across the road from the back entrance to the florist. You will have realised that Dad was not afraid of cutting a few corners to make a profit. My older cousin told me he visited Dad during the forties and had to act as lookout while Dad recycled floral wreaths left after a funeral!

To be continued…


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