“My mother and I, then 11, had just drowned some kittens… and for weeks I imagined those poor dead creatures,” the South African restaurateur wrote.
“Too many kittens was a frequent occurrence and there had come a day when my mother, unable to find homes for yet another litter, decided to drown the latest batch.”
Leith wrote in her book that she tried to talk her mom out of it, but the protests were ultimately “met with a firm ‘darling, it has to be done. They are only a few hours old. They will hardly know it’s happening.’”
In a haunting description, Leith noted that the tiny animals “fought like the devil for life.”
“I held the bag under the water until the last kitten had stopped mewing,” she wrote.
Leith explained to HuffPost why she decided to include this story in her new memoir.
“This happened in the early 1940′s, when I was 11 years old, being brought up on a farm in South Africa,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “I wrote about it honestly in my book, as an 11 year old it was an extremely traumatic experience, not one I would forget, however it is what happened 70 years ago.”
She also advocated neutering and spaying pets.
“Thankfully today in the UK we have the choice of neutering our cats and have more options to home kittens, although sadly in some parts of the world it is still an issue.”
Humane Society International stresses the importance of spay and neuter initiatives for stray animals, noting those who are not “are often euthanized, neglected or die of disease.”
“When effectively delivered and combined with vaccinations, spay/neuter provides a humane and effective way to reduce the number of animals living on the streets, and improves the health of those remaining,” the society says on its website. “Sterilizing community dogs and returning them to their territories on the streets allows for a natural reduction in their population over time and leaves the most socialized dogs on the streets.”
The organization also noted that neutered animals are viewed “more favorably” by the general public.