A life dedicated to helping animals...

Flashback: HIlton Draper with Snoopy in 1985
Flashback: HIlton Draper with Snoopy in 1985

I enjoyed reading Emily Heward’s article about the 30th anniversary of the present RSPCA Clinic at Wade Street (“Three Decades of Animal Magic,” 10 Oct.)

The organisation has had many dedicated staff, to whom local animal lovers owe a great deal. One of these in the past was Hilton Draper, first manager of the old Halifax RSPCA clinic. During his time running it, the charity, which once ran on a shoestring, became a complex and businesslike organisation. But for Mr. Draper, this came at a price.

Leslie Hilton Draper was born on 18 August 1923 in the Isle of Wight. He visited Halifax during the war, when he was serving with the Royal Engineers, and met his future wife. Then he went on active service to North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.

After the war he joined a pharmaceutical firm in Somerset, selling veterinary products; and when the firm was taken over, Hilton joined the RSPCA and came to Halifax. In 1947 he married his sweetheart, Doreen Halstead.

Mr. Draper devoted more than 20 years of his life to the relief of suffering of animals. When he first joined the RSPCA, it cost about 2 pence a day to keep and feed a dog. By 1982 the figure had risen to nearly £2.

When he started work in the old prefabricated building at Woolshops, he and his wife would look after strays, tend their wounds, and when new homes could not be found for animals, put them to sleep. Things were, to say the least, primitive. Even so, one of his first jobs as manager of the Halifax clinic was to help raise £9,000 to cover the outstanding debt on the building.

In the summer of 1982, Hilton received a circular letter from RSPCA head-quarters, revealing that exposure to high concentrations of chloroform, used to put down animals, could cause liver or kidney damage, due to the fact it was carcinogenic. This communication rang an alarm bell with Hilton, who had recently had one kidney removed; had also required a tumour removing from his neck. For nearly 18 years he had been exposed to the chemical, when animals were put down using it.

Until he received the circular, Hilton had never connected his exposure to chloroform with his condition. He did know that experiments had shown chloroform caused tumour formation in rats and mice, but not in humans. He sought legal advice, considering he may have developed cancer as a result of his work. Interviewed in September 1982, he said: “In the summer months 10 years or more ago we were engaged in the euthanasia of hundreds of cats using chloroform. It wasn’t pleasant, but you became immune to it eventually; and I never realised there might be long term health hazards in exposure to it. You could not avoid inhaling it, and I must have used hundreds and hundreds of gallons of the stuff.”

By 1982 the RSPCA. Council had directed that the use of chloroform should be restricted to cases where there was no practicable humane alternative; by then, most clinics used the injection method for animal euthanasia.

Hilton Draper retired in 1985; at the time, he had a Chihuahua called Snoopy and a talkative budgerigar called Joey. He said “I want to remain involved with the RSPCA but I also want to devote some time to voluntary work. I have come into contact with so many wonderful people over the years that I’d like to think I could go on providing help.”

But his health was declining fast, and Hilton died in hospital at Leeds only three years later, aged 65. His wife died in 1996.

David C Glover