Flashback Friday…! #FlashbackFriday ALF Direct Action… 1985 – University of Western Ontario

Flashback Friday…! #FlashbackFriday
ALF Direct Action…
1985 – University of Western Ontario


baboonToday we look back at the case of Debbie the baboon. Debbie – or “B43” as she was lovingly named by her captors – was the (nonconsenting) subject of a cholesterol experiment funded by the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation and conducted at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) by vivisector Bernard Wolfe.

As per experimental protocol, Debbie sat alone in a six-by-eight-foot windowless room from September 1984 to January 1985 while continuously restrained in a chair. One level of plexiglass encircled her head and another level of plexiglass encircled her chest. Three catheter implants extended out of her body. Witnesses described her as “limp”, with clumps of hair falling out and sores festering on her bottom. She trembled at the approach of humans.

Debbie would have suffered in obscurity if not for the ALF. They accessed Wolfe’s lab and confiscated video and photos of Debbie. The publicity surrounding the images prompted the director of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (a sham industry body that oversees the use of animals in experiments) to opine that the ALF might have intentionally caused Debbie’s distress by teasing her with a rubber snake (which animal “handlers” apparently used to scare primates from one cage to another). Further, he claimed Debbie had to be restrained for her own good to prevent her from pulling the catheters out.

Above ground activists took up Debbie’s cause in various ways. Members of the animal rights group ARK II staged a 30-day hunger strike from a mobile home parked in front of the head office of the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation in Toronto. The action did not persuade the organization to cut funding for the cholesterol experiment, but it did garner lots of negative publicity for a charity dependent on public donors.

Damning PR was generated for UWO and vivisectors in general by a civil law suit launched by ecology organization Lifeforce against Wolfe and lab vet William Rapley. It charged that the two men had “willfully caused unnecessary suffering” to Debbie. As prosecution witnesses described the evils of restraint chairs and other standard lab practices, the UWO quietly “freed” Debbie to an undisclosed zoo. (University officials maintained that the timing of her release was coincidental.) As well, UWO promised not to chronically restrain baboons in the future.

This promise was sadly broken: UWO in fact escalated all manner of torture on baboons and other primates as it became a world leader in organ transplants during the 1990s.