December 10, 1907: Brown Dog Riots rock London!

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A Brief History

On this date, December 10, 1907, a long running feud between the medical community and anti-vivisectionist activists boiled over into the worst of the riots and disturbances over the statue of a dog!

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper we find the turn of the century London medical community leaving the dark ages of medicine and trying to approach something more like the research we have today. Part of that scientific quest included the practice of vivisection, dissecting animals while they are still alive.  This practice was used for research and also for the instruction of medical students, and an attempt at humane practices was made by using anesthesia on the animals.  When they used man’s best friend instead of rodents, well, they went too far and were sure to generate some backlash.

The doctors and students claimed the animals did not feel pain, but the anti-vivisectionists disagreed and said that during such operations the subject animals demonstrated extreme discomfort despite the anesthesia.  Lawsuits and public outcry on both sides continued through the early 1900s and was taken to another level when the anti-vivisectionists erected a memorial statue of a dog (brown, of course).

The statue by Joseph Whitehead was erected in 1906 in Battersea’s Latchmere Recreation Ground and presumed destroyed in 1910.

Medical researchers and students were highly offended by this memorial and the rhetoric from the activists and on December 10, 1907 decided to tear down the memorial.  Police had been contending with a campaign of vandalism of the memorial and were trying to protect it when a mob of perhaps a thousand medical students and others (known as “anti-doggers”) descended upon the park where the memorial stood!

About 400 police were deployed to protect the property and the fight was on.  Somehow the violence expanded to include trade union members and suffragettes, causing quite a disruption.  Other less extensive disturbances occurred off and on for a few more years, and the memorial was removed by local authorities in 1910 and melted down.

A new statue by Nicola Hicks was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.  Photograph by Tagishsimon.

Not content to allow the “anti-doggers” the last word, a new memorial statue was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.  No riot this time, but sure enough the “anti-doggers” had it removed in 1992.  Restored in 1994, the memorial was moved to its current home in a less conspicuous part of the park.

No animals were harmed in the writing of this article!

The old Brown Dog by Joseph Whitehead

Question for students (and subscribers): When, if ever, is animal experimentation acceptable?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For the larger issue of dog rights, including coverage of these riots, we recommend the following books:

Nibert, David.  Animal Rights/Human Rights (Critical Media Studies: Institutions, Politics, and Culture).  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002.

DeMello, Margo.  Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies.  Columbia University Press, 2012.

The featured image in this article, a London photograph of the spot on which the Brown Dog statue had stood in Battersea, taken the morning it disappeared and originally published by the Daily Graphic, London, 11 March 1910, reprinted in Hilda Kean, “An Exploration of the Sculptures of Greyfriars Bobby, Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Brown Dog, Battersea, South London, England,” Society and Animals, 11(4), December 2003, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924. See this page for further explanation.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.