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UFAW marks International Women’s Day on 8th March Marguerite Silverman

7 March 2019

Marguerite Ruth Silverman, MRCVS, ACIS 1914-2003

The vet who helped animals in Israel

No-one knew where it came from, what I should do with it, where I could take it.  I talked to everyone… I did not know what to do and did not want to do anything.

Marguerite Silverman wrote these words on having found a stray puppy huddled against a wall whilst on holiday in Israel.  But such was her tenacity in wanting to improve the welfare of animals, she went on to found the Society for Animal Welfare in Israel (SAWI) now the UFAW SAWI Fund.

Marguerite was born on 4 May 1914 in Southampton, one of two children to Joseph and Edith Silverman.  Her father was the Mayor of Southampton and her family were well respected.  She graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1935 – among the first of the new wave of female veterinary scholars - and spent some time in companion animal practice before the Second World War.

She then changed career and developed a successful business in verbatim recording (before the invention of the tape recorder) as well as writing a training manual for audio transcribers.  She also wrote three crime fiction novels whose central character was Chief Inspector Christopher Adrian.

In 1958, following a holiday visit to Israel during which she had been distressed by the scale of the animal suffering she had seen, she founded the Society for Animal Welfare in Israel (SAWI).  In 1986 she approached UFAW about the possibility of SAWI being taken under its wing but remained as its President throughout her lifetime.  She generously supported SAWI and followed the activities of both SAWI and UFAW with interest.

She died peacefully at a nursing home, near her home in Catcott in Somerset, on Friday 5 December 2003, aged 89.  Through her efforts in founding and developing SAWI and in her generous support for its activities, Marguerite Silverman had a tremendous impact on improving the welfare of animals in Israel.

In Marguerite’s own words – how she came to found the Society for Animal Welfare in Israel (SAWI) – taken from the 1977 Annual Report for SAWI

Early in 1957, I went to Israel for a short holiday.  I knew very little about the country, but that was soon remedied by the enthusiasm of the people who literally wanted to show me a few blades of grass where none had grown before.  It was a most exciting experience marred for me by the complete lack of animal welfare facilities.  I picked up a puppy huddled against a wall.  No-one knew where it came from, what I should do with it, where I could take it.  I talked to everyone.  A women doctor friend said if you had seen refugees in the state that I have, you wouldn’t be worrying yourself about dogs and cats.”  A leader of a tour I joined, a kind young man, said we shall have time in a few years to think about these things.  A German woman who sold entrance tickets at a museum said there are street dogs in every country.  If you want something done about it here, then you must do it yourself.”

I became haunted by this remark.  I had given up veterinary work because I could not stand up to the emotional involvement.  Still less did I want to be caught up in animal welfare work. 

Eventually, back in England, I went unwillingly to the Israeli Embassy and saw a very sensible and helpful man.  He told me that people came in with many strange enquiries, but no one had come in before and talked about animals.  He told me to write to the Jerusalem Post, the English language newspaper of Israel.  I did this and was astonished to receive a large number of letters from people of various nationalities, living in Israel.  All the letters said the same thing; we can’t make anyone do anything.  No-one here has time.  YOU must help from England.  I was appalled.  I did not know what to do and did not want to do anything.

Eventually, I wrote a letter to the Jewish Chronicle.  My letter brought several charming replies.  Some of the people who wrote at that time are still on our committee or help whenever they can.

We had a meeting to try to decide what to do.  We knew that we could not impose animal welfare on Israel from outside.  Even if we had some money, we wouldn’t have known to whom to give it.  We decided the first thing to do was to get ourselves organised and in this we had the utmost help from animal welfare societies in this country.  Miss Nina Hosali of SPANA showed me how to draw up the Rules of a society.  Miss Kit Wilson, who at that time worked for the Cats Protection League, arrived one day in my office to offer help.  The International League for the Protection of Horses offered advice and help and the RSPCA and others offered free literature and posters.  UFAW gave us free books and booklets. 

By this time, we had made a few contacts in Israel with people who, we discovered, were running small animal shelters, or were anxious to do so.  And so, gradually, here and in Israel we began to get a working arrangement going.  We worked in the evenings (we were all in jobs) and we struggled with circular letters, writing a leaflet, making contacts here and there, getting patrons, getting money.  We tried out all the accepted ways of making money – jumble sales, Bazaar stalls, talking to groups, coffee evenings in the houses of friends, persuading people to make payments under Deed of Covenant.  We had to make it clear that we were genuine and not a society that was here today and gone tomorrow.  At all times, I had great help and support from my work colleagues, and SAWI has always been made up of non-Jewish as well as Jewish supporters.

We were most fortunate in our original Chairman, Leonard Levy, a barrister and alderman and a man of great kindness and wisdom.  He guided us until his untimely death in 1974.  We became a registered charity and more recently we became registered with the Board of Deputies.

One of the most astonishing moments was when we discovered someone had left us some money in a will.  We really felt we existed.  The other outstanding moment was when the Jewish Chronicle offered to become our Patron. 

In these twenty-one years, the animal welfare workers in Israel have done a tremendous job. It has been a hard, uphill battle with little money, in a country consisting of people (many of them refugees) from all over the world, all preoccupied with their own problems and the problems of a new country surrounded by enemies.  There is much there still to be done, but that is scarcely surprising when here, in England, with hundreds of animal welfare societies and small welfare groups, we still have cruelty, neglect and ignorance.  However, at least in Israel these days, in many areas, if you see a puppy in the street there is somewhere to take it.

Marguerite Silverman

SAWI today

Initially, SAWI’s role encompassed sending funds, equipment, drugs, technical information and advice to a network of animal protection and welfare societies in Israel.  This approach enabled much to be achieved over the years and in due course SAWI became a UK registered charity (No 206494).  By 1986 Miss Silverman was in her 70s and felt that she could no longer shoulder the burden of the charity’s administration.  She approached the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) about the possibility of SAWI being taken under its wing.  UFAW was happy to be able to assist and, on 1 January 1987, the UFAW Council formally took over responsibility for SAWI with Miss Silverman remaining as SAWI’s President and continuing to take an active interest in SAWI’s work. 

As well as continuing to support the existing animal welfare societies in Israel, SAWI also funded other work to benefit animal welfare there such as a conference in Tel Aviv University which addressed many animal welfare issues including improvement of the welfare of animals in agriculture and industry, the health and welfare of pets, and how to promote positive attitudes to animals.

In 2003, following discussions with Miss Silverman and consultation with the SAWI membership and the Charity Commission, SAWI’s assets were transferred to a restricted fund within UFAW — the UFAW SAWI Fund for Promoting Animal Welfare in Israel, to enable the further development of SAWI activities under the umbrella of UFAW’s limited liability (SAWI had been an unincorporated association).

Full Circle

Having qualified as a vet herself and knowing that education in animal care is of immense importance, one of Miss Silverman’s long-term aims for SAWI was to secure a continuation of discovery and education through the promotion of animal welfare science in Israel.

In 2012, this finally came to fruition when a series of meetings with staff at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem led to the funding of a UFAW SAWI Research Scholarship in animal welfare science at the Vet School at Rehovot.

This was awarded to Roi Mandel for a project under the supervision of Dr Eyal Klement on the detection of disease progression and recovery in cows.  This work, now completed, supports the inclusion of grooming brush use, and possibly other low-resilience behaviours, into automated health monitoring systems, to better detect disease progression and recovery.  Roi is now teaching ethology and animal welfare at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland and has been teaching at the Koret Veterinary School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He leads the Animal Welfare course and teaches both veterinary students and veterinarians who are pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health.

Sixty years after its foundation, SAWI is still helping animals in Israel and continuing Miss Silverman’s legacy through its UFAW SAWI Fund.  Currently, the fund is open to support projects in Israel which can lead to major animal welfare benefits - high quality science, or major, strategic, educational initiatives for animal welfare in Israel will be considered for support.

Please help us to help animals in Israel

The first SAWI Scholarship was awarded in the hope that it would not only develop useful animal welfare knowledge, but also help build Israeli capacity in animal welfare science.  Roi’s scholarship and subsequent work is an excellent start and his teaching work is helping to develop interest and expertise in animal welfare in the next generation of animal welfare professionals. Roi plans to continue teaching animal welfare and to develop a research programme in Israel. However, UFAW would like to do more.  The SAWI Fund is dedicated to improving the welfare of animals in Israel but we need your help to fund further vital research and educational work that will help build expertise and thus make a real, and long-term difference, to the welfare of animals in Israel.

You can help by providing a gift or legacy.  The SAWI Fund is specifically for use to promote animal welfare in Israel.  If you would like to help, please consider a donation or a legacy to SAWI, which will help us to continue supporting animal welfare in Israel and building on Miss Silverman’s legacy and the work already begun.  Thank you.

Photo credit: Danny Isaacs