How are you feeling about “Ruff” The Brown Dog Riots of 1907? Sometimes experimenting with animals generates some strong feelings. And results in the occasional nutter breaking into a laboratory. But that’s nothing compared to what happened in London in the summer of 1907.
Therefore, it all began with a lecture and a couple of Swedes. Since 1876, the use of animals in scientific experimentation had been regulated. And in 1903 Swedish anti-vivisectionists Louise ‘Lizzy’ Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Schartau enrolled in the London School of Medicine for Women in order to record what was happening during lectures.
One of the demonstrations they attended was taken by Dr. William Bayliss. The lesson was to demonstrate that salivary pressure was independent of blood pressure. And this would be shown by electrically stimulating the exposed nerve of a live dog’s salivary gland.
Doing so was perfectly legal. However, there was an aspect to this demonstration that was illegal, the women later claimed. The brown terrier brought into the demonstration room had not been anesthetized. Furthermore, the dog showed an operation scar from a previous demonstration, when the law said animals could only be used once.
They added, in their diary, that the dog tried to get away and the other students around them laughed at its attempts. This wasn’t illegal, but it certainly wasn’t very nice. They took their case to a leading anti-vivisectionist lawyer, Stephen Coleridge.
He made a public speech about the affair without mincing his words and making the full allegations put to him by the women. The speech was reported in the newspapers, angering Bayliss. Who demanded a full retraction of Coleridge’s allegations?
Coleridge declined, and Bayliss sued for libel. The trial took place on 11 November 1903 and hit the headlines. One of the witnesses, Professor Ernest Starling of University College London admitted that he had previously performed a demonstration on the dog.
And had allowed a second – illegal – demonstration in order to avoid a second animal having to die. But he stated that the dog was anesthetized during the demonstration. His accusers just hadn’t seen the pipe under the table delivering the anesthetic.
It would have been impossible to perform such a delicate procedure had the dog not been asleep, he argued. The court also learned that the experiment with the salivary glands was, in fact, a failure, with Bayliss giving up halfway through. The dog was later killed, it was admitted, by a student named Henry Dale, who was not licensed to euthanize animals.
Bayliss’s case was conducted by Rufus Isaacs. Isaacs successfully argued that Bayliss had done nothing illegal and the jury awarded him libel damages and costs in the region of £400,000 in modern currency. Most people thought it was going to end there but they were very much mistaken.
Coleridge established a public appeal for the money and received it in double-quick time. Bayliss gave it all to the university for medical research. Perhaps including just the sort of experiment Coleridge objected to. Then Coleridge’s brothers-in-struggle demanded there be a memorial to the brown dog.
They decided it should be a fountain with a statue of the unfortunate mutt, carrying an inscription. Therefore, in the memory of the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903. After having endured Vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed from one Vivisecteur to another till Death came to his Release.
Also, in the Memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the middle of the year 1902. The men and women of England, how long shall these things be? It was a canine cri de coeur but it proved difficult to find a sympathetic local council willing to accept the monument.
In the end, in 1906, Battersea, famous for its dogs’ home, agreed to play host to one of the odder memorials in London. George Bernard Shaw was a guest at the unveiling. Hence, the controversy continued to reign, though, and a guerrilla war broke out between groups of medical students who would creep through the hours of darkness to attempt to destroy the statue.
They were opposed by a standing police guard presumably made up of Battersea’s least-precocious officers. However, backed by a motley alliance of trade unionists and suffragettes. Who identified with the ground-down and disenfranchised dog?
The ‘anti-dogger’ gangs thought it a dangerous insult to medical research, whereas their opposition saw it as a monument to Spartacus-like defiance of despotism. Things escalated. Soon there were public marches in support of and opposed, the statue.
On 10 December 1907, an anti-dogger march sported more than 1,000 participants and ended in the Brown Dog Riots. They were running battles around Trafalgar Square between them, the pro-doggers, and 400 police.
Battersea Council eventually announced that it had had enough of paying for round-the-clock protection for a statue of a dog. Also, in 1910 it had the memorial broken up by four workmen and a police guard 120-strong – despite a petition signed by 20,000 pro-doggers. Accurately, all that is now left of the old statue is a hump in the pavement and a sign that reads ‘no dogs.