Our History

100 years of saving pets and changing lives

PDSA: one woman’s vision

In 1917, our founder, Maria Dickin, began a mission to end pet suffering. 100 years later, her vision is still at the heart of everything we do.

The idea of a veterinary service for the pets of those most in need first came to Maria Dickin when she visited some of London’s poorest communities. She was shocked by the dire human poverty, but it was the sight of animals suffering in silence that she found unbearable.

‘Animals too must have a better world to live in’
- Maria Dickin

The plight of these animals struck her again when her own beloved dog became seriously ill. She was lucky enough to be able to afford vet fees, but what about the pets of those who couldn’t?

At first, Maria struggled to find support for her radical idea. Thankfully, she was determined.

After a long struggle for funding, Maria Dickin finally opened the doors to the first People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals on 17 November 1917. Outside was a sign that read:

Bring your sick animals
Do not let them suffer
All animals treated
All treatment free

A century later, PDSA has continued to grow and Maria Dickin has left a lasting legacy on animal welfare in the UK.

Watch our amazing story:

1917 - 1930

A decade of innovation

A group of people stand outside a PDSA caravan dispensary A group of people stand outside a PDSA caravan dispensary

A PDSA caravan dispensary

A PDSA caravan dispensary

1917 - The very first PDSA Pet Clinic opens

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals of the Poor opens its first clinic in a cellar in London’s Whitechapel. Our inspirational founder, Maria Dickin, is moved by the plight of sick animals and the owners who can’t afford to treat them.

1921 - Reaching animals and helping owners

Maria Dickin finds a way to reach more animals in need and educate their owners. She transforms a horse-drawn caravan into a travelling clinic, the first in a fleet for Britain.

1923 - Laying foundations in London

Within four years, PDSA has set up seven pet clinics acrossLondon. We start to establish permanent clinics in the areas of greatest need.Exeter also welcomes the first PDSA Pet Clinic outside of London.

1924 - 17 Pet Clinics for PDSA as word spreads

PDSA now has 17 Pet Clinics across the UK, caring for 150,000 animals every year. We also extend our work abroad to Paris, Romania, Tangier, Egypt, Greece and Palestine.

1928 - Europe's first animal sanatorium

On the edge of London, the Ilford Sanatorium offers a rest home for horses and donkeys, and a fully equipped training centre for vet students. A modern PDSA Pet Hospital now stands on the site.

1929 - A generation of Busy Bees

Maria Dickin launches Busy Bees, a club for children. Our young supporters are soon learning about how to take good care of their pets, as well as raising vital funds for PDSA. Today, our Pet Protectors kids club continues her mission to educate theUK’s future pet owners

1930 - 1950

Animals in war

A wire coated terrier stands on a pile of rubble alongside a man in a 'PDSA Rescue' hard hat. A wire coated terrier stands on a pile of rubble alongside a man in a 'PDSA Rescue' hard hat.

PDSA Rescue Squad dog, Beauty, working with handler Bill Barnett during the Blitz

PDSA Rescue Squad dog, Beauty, working with handler Bill Barnett during the Blitz

1931 - The 'Empire Christmas Pudding'

As the country faced great unemployment and growing poverty, we decided to spread a little festive cheer by giving everyone in London's East End a taste of a giant Christmas pudding. The huge 'Prince of Wales' Empire Christmas Pudding' was paraded through the streets.

1934 - Free annual treatments surpass 1 million

The number of free annual treatments reaches a staggering seven figures.

1939 - Saving pets in wartime

Between 1939 and 1945, dedicated PDSA Animal Rescue Squads help to save and treat more than 250,000 pets injured and lost during the Blitz.

1943 - A club for animals in service

PDSA sets up its Allied Forces Mascot Club for animals serving during World War II, both saving lives and providing morale-boosting companionship for soldiers, sailors and airmen.

1943 - Recognising animal bravery

The PDSA Dickin Medal is established to honour the gallantry and devotion of animals that show outstanding endurance or bravery in the line of duty.

1950 - 1970

A legacy of pet wellbeing

An elderly Maria Dickin pats a Labrador An elderly Maria Dickin pats a Labrador

Maria Dickin in her later years

Maria Dickin in her later years

1951 - A very sad day for PDSA

Our founder and inspiration, Maria Dickin, CBE, passes away (aged 81) after a life spent working tirelessly on behalf of animals. She is remembered worldwide as one of the greatest figures in the history of animal welfare.

1952 - Enid Blyton becomes Queen Bee

The famous and much-loved children’s writer attracts over 20,000 new members in her first year as head of our Busy Bees children's club.

1958 - A new club for junior supporters

Buoyed by the success of the existing Busy Bees club, PDSA launches the Animal Service Guild, a new club aimed at older children.

1960 - Our very first PDSA Pet Hospital

To keep pace with advances in veterinary medicine and technology, PDSA opens its very first purpose-built Pet Hospital, at Dunkirk Road, Nottingham, in July 1960.

1970 - 1990

New ways to fundraise

Volunteers outside a PDSA Shop Volunteers outside a PDSA Shop

An early PDSA charity shop

An early PDSA charity shop

1971 - We hit the high street

PDSA now has 15 charity shops on high streets across Britain, eachraising money to fund our vital pet care service.

1973 - PDSA welcomes HRH Princess Alexandra

Continuing the long-standing involvement of the Royal Family in the work of the charity, Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra succeeds her mother as Patron of PDSA, a position she holds to this day.

1975 - A fond farewell

It’s the end of an era as PDSA, under new laws, withdraws our Mobile Animal Treatment Units, more than 50 years after they first appeared on the streets of Britain.

1980 - We start in-house training for our nurses

PDSA introduces its first in-house training scheme for veterinary nurses. It’s in keeping with our reputation for pioneering developments in veterinary medical practice.

1983 - A new way to fundraise

We introduce a lottery draw to boost the charity’s funds and help give more vital care for pets in need.

1990 - 2010

The changing face of animal welfare

Daisy, a Pet Fit Club contestant, at the start of her drastic weight loss

Daisy, a Pet Fit Club contestant, at the start of her drastic weight loss

1993 - A brand new club for children

PDSA launches our Pet Protectors Club, replacing the previous club, Busy Bees. Through our new club, we reach thousands of children and teenagers every year, to teach them about caring for pets.

2001 - PDSA Gold Medal launched

Known as the animal's George Cross, the PDSA Gold Medal is awarded to for gallantry and devotion to duty outside of military conflict. It recognises working animals, including police, rescue or assistance animals, who have been instrumental in saving lives.

2005 - The launch of PDSA Pet Fit Club

We start Pet Fit Club, our annual pet slimming competition, in an effort to help combat the rising levels of pet obesity. Since 2005, Pet Fit Club has helped 78 dogs, 34 cats and 7 rabbits lose a total 68 stone 9lb - equivalent to a grand piano or 192 Chihuahuas!

2006 - A new look for our Animal Cemetery

The PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford, Essex, undergoes restoration. A £50k grant from the Big Lottery Fund and The People’s Millions helps PDSA improve the Cemetery with a new visitor centre and wheelchair-accessible path.

2008 - Northern Ireland's first Pet Hospital opens

Belfast becomes home to the first dedicated PDSA Pet Hospital in Northern Ireland.

2008 - Paws Forever

To give people a way to remember their much-loved pets we open a new Garden of Remembrance and the Paws Forever Pet Tribute Garden at Ilford PDSA Animal Cemetery.

2010 - Today

Looking to the future

Two PDSA vets treat a sick dog Two PDSA vets treat a sick dog

PDSA vets in action

PDSA vets in action

2011 - Launch of the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report

We launch the groundbreaking PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, giving the most comprehensive insight ever into pet wellbeing. It is referenced widely across the media and the veterinary profession.

2012 - PDSA wins the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award

We’re delighted to be one of just 60 organisations recognised for the hard work, commitment and generosity of our volunteers.

2013 - Support from the People's Postcode Lottery

The UK’s affection for PDSA comes out in force when we win a public vote for the country's most loved charity, scooping an incredible £50,000 from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery. We use the funding in two important ways: to help prevent illnesses, and to educate millions of owners on animal wellbeing.

2013 - Robert Breckman donates two PetCheck vehicles to PDSA

Generous donor Robert Breckman helps keep our mobile PDSA Pet Check vans on the road by funding two new vehicles in memory of his wife, Julie Breckman. Our Pet Check vehicles tour the country, offering free wellbeing checks to dogs and advice on the care of other popular pets.

2014 - Reaching more pets in Margate

Thanks to an amazing donation from Frank and Ethel Fright, we are able to offer veterinary care at a reduced cost to pet owners living on the fringes of poverty who can meet some, but not all, of the cost.

2014 - PDSA Order of Merit launched

The animal equivalent of the OBE, that recognises both outstanding acts of devotion and the special relationship between pets and people.

2015 - 'You're the reason'

PDSA is on the small screen with a new advert to raise awareness of the work we do. Called 'You're the Reason' and inspired by the people and pets we work with everyday, the advert shows the incredible relationships between pets and owner.

2015 - A blue plaque for Maria Dickin

Our founder, Maria Dickin, is commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque on her childhood home in Hackney, London. The plaque reads:

Maria Dickin, 1870 -1951, promoter of animal welfare and founder of the PDSA was born here

2017 - A new weekly lottery

As we head into our Centenary year, we launch a new weekly lottery to help us raise funds for the future.

2017 - 100 years of saving pets and changing lives

We're so proud of what Maria Dickin started and what we've achieved in the last 100 years - but we've only just begun. This year, as well as celebrating the past, we'll be looking to the future and turning our attention to fresh challenges to do more for the UK's most vulnerable pets. 

Join our celebrations, help us raise funds and awareness so we can continue our work for the next 100 years and beyond.