Blue with PDA vet Terry Ogden

Blue with PDSA vet Terry Ogden

By Ann Evans

Photos courtesy of the PDSA



Dixon with PDSA vet Nicola Martin

Dixon with PDSA vet Nicola Martin

PDSA is the UK’s leading veterinary charity, providing free veterinary care for the sick and injured pets of people in need. It’s a charity we’ve known all our lives and grown up with. It was founded over 90 years ago by Maria Elisabeth Dickin CBE (1870-1951). This pioneering, enthusiastic and determined woman devoted her life to raising the status of animals and improving their standard of care.


In addition to providing veterinary care, PDSA is dedicated to promoting responsible pet ownership.   In the last four years alone their aim of improving the lives of every pet in the UK has gathered pace thanks to a programme of education and workshops which has reached more than 150,000 children with petcare and wellbeing advice.


Maria Dickin CBE

Maria Dickin CBE

The charity has a tradition of taking its expertise out into communities and, thanks to a funding boost from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, its community vet nurses reached a record 60,000 plus children in the last 12 months.


“In 2014 we adopted a new ‘intensive care’ approach” explained Nicola Martin, Head of Pet Health and Welfare at PDSA. “Thanks to the funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, our team of community vet nurses were able to target ten pet welfare ‘hotspots’ delivering three weeks of fun, interactive sessions at local schools, followed by a week-long visit from one of our Pet Check vehicles. Our local pet hospitals also held community open days, and our Pet Check vehicles returned six months later to see how owners were getting on.







“Children are the pet owners of the future; by helping them to better understand animals’ needs we can improve the lives of generations of pets to come.”


Max with Laura Marshall

Max with Laura Marshall

Five PDSA Community Vet Nurses visited over 400 schools throughout 2014, delivering more than 1,000 workshops. Alongside this the charity’s Pet Check vehicles provided a thorough health and wellbeing assessment of local dogs’ five welfare needs – environment, behaviour, diet, companionship and health.


Over 8,000 people visited the Pet Check vehicles on their 2014 tour, and nearly 4,500 dogs were given free wellbeing checks. Return visits also took place in each targeted area, revealing significant improvements in the wellbeing of the dogs that had been for an assessment.


In early March only a third (34%) of the dogs seen were assessed as having a good diet, while 61% were identified as needing changes to improve their diet. By the end of the year, these same areas reported that more than half of dogs (51%) were now having their dietary needs met properly – an increase of 17%. Similarly, preventive health improved from just one-in-five dogs having their needs met, to one-in-three being in tip-top condition by the end of the year.


Nicola continued: “We know that owners love their pets, and by working with owners to share our expert advice we are able to help turn their affection into positive action that improves the lives of their pets.”




In early 2014, PDSA’s education programme was one of several pet welfare programmes selected to benefit from a £600,000 cash injection, thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery.


One beneficiary of PDSA’s tour was Max, a German Shepherd from Hartlepool. His life was saved after a chance visit for a free check revealed a testicular swelling, which turned out to be a cancerous tumour.


The vet nurse arranged for Max to register at his local PDSA Pet Hospital in Middlesbrough, and after receiving life-saving surgery he went on to make a full recovery.


PDSA’s two custom-designed PetCheck vehicles have been kindly donated to the charity by benefactors Julie and Robert Breckman. The vehicles are named after Robert and his late wife Julie, whose love of animals and support of PDSA has helped to make the PetCheck tour a reality.


Maria Dickin by 1st motor caravan

Maria Dickin by 1st motor caravan

Since it was established PDSA has provided 100 million free treatments to more than 20 million pets in need.


Today, PDSA operates a UK-wide network of 51 Pet Hospitals and branches and also works through over 350 contracted private practices (Pet Practices). In 2014 the charity provided vital care for over 470,000 animals. Delivery of PDSA’s veterinary services costs more than £60 million annually, which is funded entirely by public support; mainly through donations, gifts in wills and trading to ensure the charity can continue its valuable work.


As well as providing vital treatment and care for hundreds of thousands of pets and improving animal welfare, PDSA is also dedicated to recognising the contribution animals make in society and has the most prestigious animal bravery awards programme in the world.




The charity began over 90 years. It was the vision of Londoner, Maria Elisabeth Dickin born in 1870 the daughter of a Free Church Minister and the eldest of eight children. This pioneering, enthusiastic and determined woman devoted her life to raising the status of animals and improving their standard of care.


Civil Defence rescue dog during the Blitz

Civil Defence rescue dog during the Blitz

While working as a social worker in the East End of London at the turn of the 20th century, Maria Dickin was appalled at the suffering of the animals in the homes and on the streets of the capital. She knew that poverty was behind their pain and vowed to provide a solution to help the animals and their owners.


On 17 November 1917, while the world was at war, Maria Dickin opened her first People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals of the Poor. She managed to acquire the use of a small cellar in the Whitechapel district of London and the help of a vet who agreed to donate his time and skills to the cause. Within hours of the dispensary opening its doors a huge queue formed in the street where Mrs Dickin had placed a sign saying: “Bring your sick animals – Do not let them suffer – All animals treated – All treatment free.”


People waited for hours to receive free treatment for their working animals and domestic pets. Soon larger premises had to be found to deal with the increasing demand. By 1921, The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) had opened its first branch outside London and it was the first of many that were to spring up all over Britain.


Maria was a visionary who wanted animals the world over to be able to have medical treatment and their owners educated in their welfare. And she began this incredible journey by converting a horse-drawn gypsy caravan into a mobile dispensary, and along with a vet, embarked on a tour around the country.


Gradually permanent clinics also began to emerge – in London to begin with and then to other parts of the country. Exeter saw the first permanent clinic outside of the Capital. By 1924 there were 17 clinics across the UK providing free care to 150,000 animals.


By 1935 Maria had established five PDSA hospitals, 71 dispensaries and 11 motor caravan dispensaries. She had also opened dispensaries in Egypt and Greece which were followed by further PDSA dispensaries in South Africa and Palestine.


The work of the charity continued to grow and expand. During the war years PDSA Animal Rescue Squads helped to save and treat more than a quarter of a million pets injured and buried under debris during the blitz. And in recognition of the outstanding bravery or endurance of certain animals in the line of duty, The Dickin Medal – the animal equivalent of the Victorian Cross was established by her in 1943.


Mrs Dickin had always said of PDSA: “We teach as we work!” and she extended this mission overseas with the charity gaining international status in the 1920s.


By the time of her death in 1951, Maria Dickin CBE had successfully created a charity that did as she had promised – provide free veterinary treatment for the sick and injured pets of people in need.


The PDSA Dickin Medal

The PDSA Dickin Medal



On 21 May 2014, Military Working Dog, Sasha, became the 65th recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal.


Instituted in 1943 by PDSA’s founder Maria Dickin, the PDSA Dickin Medal acknowledges outstanding acts of bravery displayed by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any theatre of war, worldwide.


The PDSA Dickin Medal is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve” within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and pale blue to symbolise the naval, land and air forces.


Recognised worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross, the PDSA Dickin Medal is awarded to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units. Over the years, recipients have included pigeons, dogs, horses and a cat. To date, 65 PDSA Dickin Medals and 1 Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal have been awarded. Recipients include pigeons, dogs, horses and a cat.


Anyone can nominate an animal for the PDSA Dickin Medal. If you know of an animal that has acted bravely in conflict you can contact PDSA in writing or via its website:

Judy - Japanese Prisoner of War dog

Judy – Japanese Prisoner of War dog


Judy was the only officially registered Prisoner of War dog. Her citation reads: Date of Award: May 1946. “For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.”









Buster is a more recent recipient and is pictured with his handler, Sgt Danny Morgan. His citation reads: Date of Award: 9 December 2003. “For outstanding gallantry in March 2003 while assigned to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in Safwan, Southern Iraq. Arms and explosives search dog Buster located an arsenal of weapons and explosives hidden behind a false wall in a property linked with an extremist group. Buster is considered responsible for saving the lives of service personnel and civilians. Following the find, all attacks ceased and shortly afterwards and troops replaced their steel helmets with berets.”

Buster with handler Sergeant Danny Morgan

Buster with handler Sergeant Danny Morgan














Take a few minutes to look at their website, and see the amazing work they continue to do. The PDSA – for pets in need of vets. or call 0800 731 2502.