Brown Dog Riots

“On this day in 1907, in what would become known as the Brown Dog Riots, a reported 1,000 people marched in defence of the practice of vivisection–surgery on live animals–clashing with police officers in London’s Trafalgar Square. The riots were the culmination of almost five years of a divisive controversy surrounding the experimental surgery; its turning point the destruction of a statue dedicated to a brown terrier that had lost its life during one such procedure.

The controversy divided British society and involved medical students, suffragettes, the police, and a provocative bronze statute of a brown dog. The event that triggered the riots was a vivisection performed on a brown terrier by the physiologist William Bayliss before a large audience of medical students at University College London. Activists claimed that the dog was conscious during the procedure and struggling; Bayliss, on the other hand maintained that the animal was anaesthetised. Furthermore, activists claimed that the dog had been kept alive in a cruel manner and even endured surgery on multiple occasions. The surgery was publicly condemned and in response, Bayliss sued for libel.

Bayliss won his case, but the controversy had just begun. A few years later in 1906, a group against vivisections erected a statue of a dog in Battersea Park. A plague below the statue read,

“”In 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 over from one vivisector to another till death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?””

The medical students supporting vivisection, labeled “”anti-doggers,”” were incensed by the words on the plaque. The statue was destroyed and according to some accounts, melted down by a blacksmith. The resulting riots were some of the most divisive and even violent that Britain has ever witnessed.

Many years later, in 1985, a new statue of a brown dog was unveiled in Battersea Park, which stands today in the northwest corner of the park in a section known as the Old English Garden, along the River Thames. Passersby will be forgiven for not recognising the incredibly dramatic events associated with the brown dog on its plinth, but its safe to assume that most would be pleased with the outcome of the struggle.”