Black and white picture of two horses pulling a large horse ambulance

Our history

We've been helping animals for 125 years. Beginning on the streets of London in 1897, there through the battles of World War One and the Blitz of World War Two, and helping vulnerable pets right up to today. Keeping pets and people together. And, when that's not possible, making sure animals get the lifelong care and support they need.

The timeline of Blue Cross

1897

A group of animal lovers founded Our Dumb Friends League – the original name for Blue Cross – to care for working horses on the streets of London. Their mission was to encourage kindness towards animals. The phrase "dumb friends" is thought to have come from a speech given by Queen Victoria.

Black and white photo of a horse with a man and a woman

1900

We bought the first horse ambulance to be used on London’s streets for £500, to transport injured animals to hospital.

Black and white picture of two horses pulling a large horse ambulance

1901

We distributed horse sun hats on loan to make sure that the capital's horses were kept cool. Our hot weather advice is still some of our most popular.

1906

We opened our first animal hospital in Victoria, London, thought to be the first of its kind in the world. It has never once closed its doors to vulnerable pets.

Black and white photo of the Victoria animal hospital

1912

We launched the Blue Cross Fund to help animals during the Balkan War. We also helped animals in the First (1914-1918) and Second (1939-1945) World Wars.

Black and white image of a horse being treated by three veterinary professionals
A horse being treated at a Blue Cross hospital in Serqueux, France

1923

The first motor animal ambulance navigated to the streets of London in order to transport and treat pets.

Black and white image of a horse standing in front of a motorised horse ambulance
A London pearly king with horse and an early motorised Blue Cross horse ambulance

1940

During the Blitz of the Second World War, our Victoria animal hospital operated on pets by candlelight to save their lives due to injury or illness. And, each night, we opened our doors to pets so their owners knew they were cared for as they made their way to air raid shelters. Sadly, our Hammersmith shelter alone had to care for 16 animals whose owners were killed in the nighttime atrocities. Blue Cross heroes also spent days digging injured pets out of the rubble, risking their own lives.

Many people also had to abandon their homes (and sometimes their pets) because of the bombing. We reached out for volunteers to care for these homeless pets and received a positive response. To this day we rely on animal lovers to volunteer and foster pets before they find new homes.

Two women treat a dog lying on a table with candles for light
A dog is treated by candlelight during the Blitz

1945

To help servicemen bring dogs back from overseas, our boarding kennels in Blackheath, London, were used for quarantine purposes.

1948

We launched national children’s dog shows to encourage children to care for their pets. Our Education Team continues to go into schools and youth clubs to teach future generations about responsible pet ownership.

Dog with a Blue Cross team member looking to camera with school pupils in the background
Education dog, Billy Boo, at a talk at his local school

1958

We became officially known as The Blue Cross.

1959

We opened our new animal hospital in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. We later went to open two more hospitals in Merton and Hammersmith, London.

Four women in our Grimsby animal hospital waiting room in 1966
Pets and their owners in Grimsby animal hospital's waiting room in 1966

1964

After 13 years of campaigning, we successfully persuaded the Irish government to ban horse exports.

Our rich history of campaigning continues today, with recent work including putting pressure on politicians to change breed specific legislation (BSL), which unfairly condemns certain types of dogs to death based on a set of outdated measurements.

1991

We open our Burford head office and centre, caring for small animals, dogs, cats and horses.

A black and white image of visitors being shown around a horse stable
The opening of the horse unit at our Burford site

1992

We were the first animal welfare charity to employ an animal behaviourist to help people with their pet's problems. Today, our behavioural support still helps thousands and we're determined to help thousands more pets and people in the coming year.

Black dog looking at the camera in woodland area, with a Blue Cross member of staff
Blue Cross Head of Behaviour Services, Ryan Neile, with one of the many pets helped by the team

1994

We launched our Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS), to support those coming to terms with the loss of a pet, whether through death or separation. Since then, we have helped thousands of pet owners of all ages and from all walks of life. 

1997

We celebrated our centenary and Her Majesty The Queen became Patron.

Image of The Queen in front of our Victoria animal hospital with some of our staff and onlookers
The Queen opening our refurbished Victoria animal hospital

2009

We unveiled our brand new facilities at Thirsk and Southampton rehoming centres, providing the best care for pets.

2012

We refreshed our Blue Cross brand so we could embrace the changing times, reach out to new supporters and help more pets.

2014

We opened our first pet care clinic in partnership with a local vet surgery in Derby, to reach more people who cannot afford private vet fees for their pets. We now have four more of these clinics in Luton, Torbay, Kent and York.

Veterinary surgeon Caroline Watt with cat Missy at Merton animal hospital
Cat, Missy, being examined by one of our vets

2015

First opened in 1986, refurbishment of our Bromsgrove centre starts. The finished centre later allows the team to provide the care that cats and dogs need and deserve.

2016

Our new Newport rehoming and advice unit opened, where our team offer support and advice to pet owners as well as working to find homeless pets new families. Rather than pets staying on-site, we place them in foster care while we find them loving homes. We now have three other similar facilities in Devon, Sheffield and Manchester.

2020

The coronavirus pandemic means that we have to further embrace digital ways of helping pets and raising money for our work. We also launch specific advice on coronavirus which is viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Ginger cat being held by a man wearing a mask
We continued to operate emergency care throughout the lockdowns

2021

We launch pet food banks at our rehoming, advice and behaviour units in Sheffield and Manchester to ensure people struggling to feed their four-legged friends have help.

Our refurbished Hertfordshire rehoming centre also opens, offering the best welfare to thousands of pets who come through our doors.

Shelves stacked with pet food, with a Blue Cross member of staff lifting a crate containing some pet food tins
Stocked shelves with pet food at Sheffield rehoming, advice and behaviour unit

Today

We have 11 rehoming centres, four animal hospitals, five pet care clinics and over 50 charity shops. And after 125 years, we're still helping thousands of pets every year.

But our work hasn't stopped. We want to expand the lifelong support we offer to pets and families – so that many more can benefit from our expertise and care. And we can only do it with the support of animal lovers like you.