Whether they identified with animal victims or acted on other motivations examined, the activist strategies deployed by entrepreneurs of the animal cause in the last third of the 19th century changed and made more complex the underlying emotional economy of animal protection. These activists increasingly used sensitizing devices which differed greatly from the methods which had been hitherto used to attempt to change the mores of the general public. Whereas previously the emphasis was on prohibiting violent scenes from public places, now it was a matter of actually tracking down, and exposing hidden acts of cruelty, which happened away from the public gaze.
They published visualized people “Light in Dark Places, an indictment of vivisection illustrated with many etchings directly lifted from physiology manuals: knives, scalpels, used pliers and scissors; equipment set up to hold in place of dogs and rabbits whose flanks had been opened with several incisions; a frog’s nerves attached to a measuring instrument; a machine to produce artificial respiration. In doing this, aimed to expose images of vivisection to as many people as possible, so that they could understand, having experiences feelings of disgust, the need to abolish such an intolerable practice: [W]e gathered together and displayed some of the instruments and apparatus from the physiological laboratory, and showed different ways of immobilizing victims, as well as examples of various experiments, in order to give a reader who was prepared look for a few moments a clearer idea of the work of the “torture chambers of science” than they could have obtained by reading a large number of printed descriptions (without pictures).
The production and distribution of material of this kind became a classic sensitizing device for activists who sought to reveal the widespread hidden suffering of animal victims: People have no idea what vivisection consists of; it would therefore help our cause to show members of the public the terrifying spectacle of the torture to which harmless creatures are subjected, all in the name of science. Increased visibility leading to increased sensitivity: the procedure worked even more effectively because antivivisectionists arranged images in such a way as to maximize their emotional impact. In one pamphlet produced by the Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection, the image of a dog on a vivisectionist’s operating table is placed next to a picture of a Saint Bernard holding between his paws a little girl who he has just saved from drowning; the titles which accompany these images – “How we treat animals, how animals treat us” – adds to the indignation of anyone who looks at the pamphlet. Opponents of vivisection use a wide variety of juxtapositions of this kind which provoke revulsion at practices that subject the figure of the dog – so loved and loving – to such excruciating pain. In fact, since the end of the 19th century, the building of animal shelters and opposition to vivisection had been mutually reinforcing causes, as animal protectionists were particularly concerned that abandoned dogs be captured and used in animal experimentation laboratories. In 1883, backers of the first SPA animal refuge declared that their primary intention was to “save dogs from the dog pound, which ordinarily serves as a waiting room for the amphitheater of vivisection.”
Several years later the Popular League against Vivisection was running four animal shelters, where homes were offered to “poor abandoned dogs, saved from vivisection.” Sensitization initiatives that aimed at having members of the public imagine their own pet being tortured by vivisectionists were a great success: they made a big contribution to the recruitment of new supporters, many of whom were women. One key part of the antivivisectionist sensitizing device was to invite personal testimonies, where an individual would give an account, in public, of a scandalous situation which they had witnessed, and explain how it had affected them personally. The personal testimony aims to provoke compassion from a distance by revealing the suffering of an unknown victim which requires a collective political response. In this regard, animal protection entrepreneurs were particularly determined to examine acts of cruelty committed in private and in secrecy and had no qualms about using what we would now call infiltration to further their cause.
By this time, opponents of vivisection appeared convinced of the necessity to force their way into laboratories. They felt sure that revealing, in sordid detail, what happened in these labs would revolt the senses and sicken the hearts of the public. Take, for example, the following comment from the Zoophilist, from September 1893: The account that you are about to read [has been] signed by eyewitnesses and gives an idea of the horrors committed in physiology laboratories under the ingenious pretext of scientific research. On June 12th at half-past two we arrived at the laboratory. Upon opening the door we immediately heard the sound of groans and cries, and as we entered the room we saw attached to a table a little poodle that was mutilated, covered in blood, fully conscious, and apparently suffering greatly. [There follows a long and detailed description of the painful operations performed on the animals.]
The Shambles of Science – describing the experiments carried out on an old brown dog – convinced animal welfare campaigners to erect a statue in the dog’s memory. As we have seen, this provoked a series of demonstrations, clashes, and riots. When attempting to stir up the emotions which will rally as many people as possible to a cause the choice of vocabulary is, of course, crucial. One of the lexical fields most often used by opponents of vivisection is the language of exposure: the investigation which reveals hidden crimes; the unmasking of criminals; the uncovering of charlatans who thought they could act with impunity. Whether engaged in direct action in laboratories or in bullrings, We are confident that she will “enlighten public opinion”; “bring to light the torture that takes place in laboratories, while also revealing certain experiments carried out on hospital patients”; reveal “in more or less veiled terms, the shameful dealings, the shady tricks and the appalling things which go on in the corridors of those abattoirs”; and “struggle against corruption.” In fact, it is a matter of ripping the masks from the faces of the guilty so that they can be seen as they really are, in the clear light of day.
Thus, those who claim to be champions of reason – laboring for the good of all humanity – can expect to have their less noble qualities and motives brought to everybody’s attention: namely, cruelty all the more alarming because it appears sophisticated; a curiosity which is both gratuitous and unhealthy; a thirst for celebrity and an unscrupulous desire for riches. Under the white coats of these apparently civilized scientists, suggest the antivivisectionists, there are monsters about whom society is entitled to fear the worst. The protection societies are there to listen to all the protests, and to put up as many obstacles as possible to stop the multitude of sterile experiments which never reveal anything, other than the presumptuousness and cruelty of the men who have performed them.
We are opposed to this distressing spectacle of a whole generation of practitioners, slowly desensitized, progressively hardened and conditioned by anatomical and micrographic research, who end up believing that they are obliged, because of their memories of their student days, or out of professional duty, to consider the suffering of living things to be of minimal importance […].
By applying the methods of a fanatic, what cruel people started by doing to animals they will end up doing to human beings if the hard stop doesn’t against them here. Thus, in the opinion of antivivisectionists, what goes on behind the closed doors of laboratories is all the more deserving of exposure because the practices of vivisectionists pose a serious threat to the wider society. We also should note that the sensitizing device used to denounce vivisection has undeniable affinities with two emerging literary genres; firstly crime fiction, where the reader follows clues that reveal the identity of guilty parties, and secondly, and to an even greater extent, with so-called sensation novels, which could be seen as forerunners of serial killer novels.