Animal Rights: The Brown Dog Riots of 1907

By Dorian Cope

It can be surprising to discover that the largest, most controversial and violent riot in Britain concerning the emotive issue of animal rights occurred not in recent years, but in 1907 – and that the most vociferous and heated protagonists were not those demonstrating on behalf of animals, but medical students defending their cruel, barbaric and unregulated scientific experiments. The so-called Brown Dog Affair – which saw its worst night of rioting in Trafalgar Square, as some 1,000 rowdy medical students clashed with police, suffragettes, trade unionists and working-class animal lovers – raged for seven years and was one of the most divisive issues in Edwardian London.

The drama began in December 1902, when two female anti-vivisectionists from Sweden infiltrated the medical school at University College London and witnessed the cruelty perpetrated against one particular brown terrier. During a lecture, while the animal was allegedly insufficiently anaesthetised, a professor cut open its abdomen in order to ligate and deprive the dog of the use of its pancreas. For the next two months, the terrier was confined to a cage where his miserable howling upset several UCL staff, until he was brought back to the lecture theatre in February 1903. Stretched on his back on an operating table, the dog’s legs and head were clamped and his mouth muzzled before he was once again cut open to inspect the results of the previous experiment. He was then handed over to another professor who cut a new opening to expose the salivary glands, and then stimulated with electricity in an attempt to prove that salivary pressure was independent of blood pressure. After half-an-hour, the unsuccessful experiment was abandoned. The dog was given over to a student who removed its pancreas before finally relieving it of its torture and killing it with a knife.

When the Swedish women exposed the inhumane and prolonged suffering of this unfortunate and unnamed dog, the researchers of UCL sued for libel – claiming that they were within the law. They won the court battle, but lost the war of public opinion – and the brown dog became a cause célèbre. In 1906, a memorial statue to this poor terrier was erected in Latchmere Park, Battersea with the following inscription:

“In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903 after having endured Vivisections extending over more than two months and having been handed over from one Vivisector to another till Death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected in the same place during the year 1902. Men and Women of England – How long shall these things be?

The statue — with its bold and brazen anti-vivisectionist inscription — became a symbolic rallying point for political activists. But scientists, doctors and medical students loathed the provocative bronze dog for the scorn it poured over their profession. When legal efforts to remove the statue failed, these “anti-doggers” repeatedly tried to smash it themselves, forcing the progressive council of Battersea to employ 24-hour protection. The Brown Dog debate raged on the streets, at public meetings, in the newspapers and Parliament – culminating in the most violent night of rioting on 10th December 1907. In a demonstration planned to coincide with the annual Oxford-Cambridge rugby match, medical students from UCL – joined by their Oxford and Cambridge peers – once again attempted to uproot the statue with a sledgehammer. Driven away by locals, the students marched towards Trafalgar Square and sang to the tune of “Little Brown Jug”:

As we go walking after dark,

We turn our steps to Latchmere Park,

And there we see, to our surprise,

A little brown dog that stands and lies.

Ha, ha, ha! Hee, hee, hee!

Little brown dog how we hate thee.

As the anti-doggers gathered around Nelson’s Column, mounted police charged the crowd and arrested the ringleaders — including one Cambridge undergraduate who was “barking like a dog.” Over the following days and weeks, more rioting broke out. Women’s suffrage meetings were routinely invaded by medical students barking like dogs, and shouting “Down with the Brown Dog!” The issue was not resolved until March 10th, 1910 — when the new local council, unwilling to pay the mounting security costs, removed the statue in the dead of night.

The Brown Dog Riots — which could not be more ideologically at odds with the extraordinary student demonstrations we are currently witnessing — were instigated by elitists, not only by position of their class, but in their misguided and (ironically enough) quasi-religious belief that science was entitled to its own exclusive code of ethics. Can the quest for knowledge ever be justified by barbaric inhumanity? 100 years later, the repugnant and unnecessary practice of vivisection — torture by any other name — still continues. Men and Women of England – How long shall these things be? As Mahatma Ghandi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

The Brown Dog Riots — though long forgotten — was a pivotal event in the history of vivisection and animal rights. Visit to learn about other significant events in our past that have been submerged through the passage of time.

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Oct 14, 2011 | 0 | History of Dogs, Miscellaneous

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