Jean Gilchrist: The mother of stray animals

When you think of animal rights in Kenya, it’s her name that comes to mind. Jean Gilchrist is the director of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (KSPCA) which has been in the news for many reasons besides Jean.

In 2005, KSPCA housed a celebrity dog nicknamed Mkombozi (Saviour) for rescuing ‘Baby Angel,’ a toddler that had been abandoned by the roadside along Ngong Forest.

Mkombozi captured the world’s imagination and was included in the book, Daisy to the Rescue: The True Stories of Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots and other Animal Heroes by Jeff Campbell with Jean, an expert in animal psychology explaining the phenomenon.

Then, there is the political activists who painted pigs red and dumped them outside Parliament, to signify greed by ‘M-Pigs’, in 2013. The pigs were housed at KSPCA pending a court case, as were donkeys emblazoned with Tumechoka and abandoned in the CBD in Nairobi.

For Jean Gilchrist, rescuing and giving animals up for adoption, besides burying them at the animal cemetery, is all in a day’s work, for which she has been a curiosity among Kenyans who take the stoning of stray dogs as a sport, mostly in rural areas and Eastlands.

For her work in animal welfare, including advocating for humane slaughter, sterilisation, shelter, investigation, rescue, education and advocacy, she was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 2009, the eighth such person so honoured since 1998 besides the 2014 Dr Elisabeth Svendsen Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in donkey welfare.

All these began after taking care of a stray cat after coming to Kenya with her hubby, then working for Amref, when Jomo Kenyatta was still president. Jean learnt about KSPCA then with a skeletal staff. She became a volunteer on her way to being a director with a trained staff of over 20 who run KSPCA on donations, funds drives and volunteers.

That is how things have been in its over 100 year history, which began when wives of colonial officers rescued oxen used for transporting goods to Nairobi on dirt tracks. At the time, the East African Society for the Protection of Cruelty on Animals was based in Mombasa before moving to Nairobi (and Nakuru) where rabies outbreaks saw ‘Kanjo’ shooting stray dogs. This gave the outfit impetus to protect them and by 1925, it changed its name to KSPCA.

An ‘inheritance’ in 1983 saw it acquire its Karen headquarters where Jean Gilchrist has been for over 20 years...thanks to the stray cat!