England's Eccentric 'Camberley Kate' Never Turned Away a Stray

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
Camberley Kate
Animal lover Kate Ward takes to the streets of London Oct. 15, 1968 collecting money for her retinue of rescued dogs. Ronald Dumont/Express/Getty Images

It's 1975 and traffic is backed up on London Road, which runs right through the center of Camberley, England. Motorists are impatient, honking their horns and leaning out windows to see why there is a delay. Somewhere ahead, a spritely woman wearing a beret atop her gray hair is navigating a handmade two-wheel pushcart down the center of the road, taking at least two dozen dogs on an outing. Most of the former strays are tied to the green-painted cart with a bit of string, while the infirm among them are seated in the cart. A couple of the dogs bound unleashed beside the woman. Most of them are barking up a storm and wagging their tails, living their best lives.

Meet Kate Ward, later known as "Camberley Kate," who may well have been the U.K.'s first dog rescuer. Near this small town, with a current population of less than 40,000, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of London, Camberley Kate single-handedly took in and cared for at least 600 dogs (and several cats) from 1943 until her death Aug. 4, 1979, at age 84.


"She would harness all the dogs up to her cart and set off for town to visit the butchers for bones, and quite often this would hold up all the traffic, but she ignored the honks from impatient drivers," says Heather Driscoll-Woodford, curator of the Remembering Camberley Kate Facebook page, in an email interview. "So it was quite a spectacle and became something that people associated with the town: the lady with all the dogs."

How It All Got Started

Camberley Kate may not have set out to become a pioneer in caring for unwanted dogs, but from the moment she rescued her first little dog, there was no turning back.

"I bought my cottage, my first home, and I went down the road and there on the vet's doorstep was a little dog, pretty lame, and he was to be put to sleep and I got him," said an 80-year-old Kate Ward in an interview filmed in 1975 by the BBC as she took her 24 dogs for a walk. "And for eight-and-a-half years, we were inseparable. Wherever I went, he went and when he died everybody said I'd never keep another. It was then, in his memory only, that I started on and I've now rescued over 500 [stray dogs] over the years."


By the time of her death four years later, the number of rescued dogs had grown to 600 — and Camberley Kate could easily name them all. During the 1975 BBC interview, she could be heard not only reciting the strays' names, but explaining how they came into her care. There was Patch, who was "flung out of a car in the middle of London Road ... among all the traffic." Another dog, Daddy, was dumped at the local police station. "They know their own names," she said.

The local vet, Geoffrey Craddock who provided pro bono care for Kate's pack, said during the BBC interview that the dogs are "regularly exercised and sensibly fed and extremely fit. They reach, on average, about 16 years of age."


Camberley Kate Was a Fierce Champion for Dogs

Camberley Kate, who received the nickname when historian Sir Arthur Bryant dubbed her such in his book, "The Lion and the Unicorn," may have been kind and caring in her treatment of stray or abandoned dogs, but she was not a shrinking violet. Not everyone who lived in or passed through the community was a fan of her work, but they soon encountered a woman who was fiercely protective of her dogs and her right to own them.

While opponents cited concerns over traffic hazards and safety conditions, insisting the dogs were dangerous, Camberley Kate always rose to the dogs' defense. When a leash law was proposed by Camberley's city council in 1969, Camberley Kate was there to fight it, with the local newspaper quoting her as saying, "The Council is nothing more than a collection of dog-haters. I think this will be rotten. It means that dogs will be chained up all day."


Camberley Kate would vocalize her outrage at any person or organization that attempted to curb the dogs' rights to care and freedom. Whether she was railing at public opinion while picking up her mail at the local post office or ramming a new car with her pushcart when it was blocking her way, Camberley Kate fully inhabited her role as an advocate.

Frequently, Camberley Kate addressed her concerns directly to the country's top authority, first writing to George VI, the King of England from 1936 to 1952, and later to his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned from 1952 to September 2022. When the future Queen Elizabeth married Nov. 20, 1947, one of Camberley Kate's dogs sent a wedding gift — a dog leash — to the newlywed, who was known for her love of corgis.

"She was very determined and single-minded," says Driscoll-Woodford, who also runs the LostPALS volunteer organization, which supports owners of lost or stolen pets in Surrey Heath, the same area where Camberley Kate once rescued dogs. "A small, tough Yorkshire woman, she didn't take any nonsense from anybody, and to be honest, I think she scared a lot of people."


Camberley Kate's Animal Rescue Legacy Lives On

While little is known about Camberley Kate's childhood, her life as a dog rescuer is well-documented. Camberley Kate was frequently photographed for the price of a donation toward the dogs' care.

"She had a way with dogs I have never seen before nor since; pushing her pram with all dogs well under control, and we are not talking about one or two — Kate had dozens of them," said Tony Crawford, a commentor on the BBC story, recalling his encounters with Ward. "I would buy dog food for her dogs, but she would not take anything for herself."


Camberley Kate, who lived only on a meager pension, was so insistent on the dogs' well-being that she set up a trust fund to benefit them after her death.

"Kate was really the forerunner to the independent dog and cat rescues that are everywhere today," says Driscoll-Woodford. "In those days, unwanted animals were dumped out on the streets or frequently left with local vets or the police. There was no such thing as local rescues who would take them in. People might take in the odd stray for themselves to keep, there wasn't really a local organization as such that would take them all in. But Kate did. She took them from the streets, from the vets and from the police, who also frequently cautioned her for breaching the peace in the morning and then brought her more dogs in the afternoon!"

Camberley Kate
Kate Ward walking her truly impressive collection of dogs.
Bob Aylott/Getty Images