Roland Butler cleverly averted a prosecution under the cruelty to animals act, for the Idaho State Circus in 1964. The Circus which regularly travelled mid America with a host of ageing beasts, was playing in Houston Texas, home to one of the first cruelty to animal lobbyists, the notorious Paul Eldon.
A disaster struck the circus during the matinee performance, when a dwarf nicknamed Od, fell into the open mouth of a yawning hippopotamus, after bouncing sideways from a trampoline. As soon as the dwarf entered Hilda the Hippo’s mouth, a gag reflex ensued which caused her to swallow. More than 1000 spectators cheered wildly and continued to applaud until they realised there had been a tragic mistake.
No sooner had the story been reported in the local paper, than Paul Eldon, one of the first to lobby for the rights of animals, contacted the circus claiming cruelty to Hilda the Hippo and threatened legal action.
On recommendation, The Circus called in the publicist Roland Butler for damage limitation. Butler contested Eldon’s claim to animal cruetly, saying that for the first part, as the hippo had been yawning, she was obviously just bored and no claim of maltreatment could be filed. Secondly, Butler made a counterclaim, asking why there was such a commotion about a bored hippo, when a human being had actually been killed.
The public was up in arms about the lack of sympathy for the dwarf and the tables turned. Eldon retracted his statement and there was no further mention of a court hearing. The Circus moved to the next city, relieved to be off the hook, but sadly minus Od the dwarf and Hilda the Hippo.