I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
The Brown Dog Affair
Sir William Bayliss was a professor of physiology at University College, London. In 1903, he performed a vivisection on a brown terrier before an audience of medical students. Two women who observed the surgery on the live animal publicized it, causing a furor that lasted until the end of the decade.
The Anti-Vivisection Movement
Vivisection involved the dissection of animals, sometimes without anesthesia, as a method of instructing medical students about anatomy. There were also medical experiments performed on animals in the hope of finding therapies that could be applied to humans.
By the middle of the 19th century, strong opposition to medical experiments on animals had developed in England. The movement was made up of faith groups, particularly Quakers and feminists who were also campaigning for the right to vote. Queen Victoria, a dog lover, was also opposed to vivisection.
Pressure resulted in the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876. Under the terms of the law, pain could not be inflicted on animals except when “the proposed experiments are absolutely necessary . . . to save or prolong human life.” Under this law, animals could only be used in a single experiment and had to be euthanized when the study was complete.
The Brown Dog Study
Ernest Starling was a physiology professor at University College, London, and he was researching whether or not pancreatic secretions were controlled by the nervous system. To determine this, he operated on a terrier mongrel in December 1902 and removed its pancreas.
In February 1903, the animal was operated on again to see how the experiment had gone. Then, Dr. Starling clamped the wound closed and handed the pooch over to Sir William Bayliss.
Now with an audience of 60 medical students, Dr. Bayliss made an opening in the dog’s neck and began stimulating its nerves with electricity. Whatever the purpose of that experiment, it failed, and the dog was given to a medical student, Henry Dale, who killed it with a knife to its heart.
Two Swedish women, who were anti-vivisectionists, were in the audience for the surgery on the dog and recorded their observations in a diary. According to them, the dog was not properly anaesthetized and was struggling during the procedure. The physicians said the animal was unconscious and pain-free.
A Fiery Anti-Vivisection Speech
Stephen Coleridge, a barrister, was Secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS). He read the diaries of the Swedish women, Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Leisa Schartau, and used their contents as the basis for a speech.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended a NAVS meeting in May 1903, at which Coleridge launched into a spirited criticism of Bayliss. “If this is not torture,” he thundered, “let Mr. Bayliss and his friends . . . tell us in Heaven’s name what torture is.”
The press leapt on the speech, with some newspapers supporting Coleridge while others lined up behind Bayliss. Member of Parliament Sir Frederick Banbury wanted to know why two procedures were performed on the dog when only one was allowed under the law.
Public opinion was mobilized, and Sir William Bayliss felt aggrieved. He demanded an apology from Stephen Coleridge, and when he didn’t get one, he sued for libel.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Alverstone, was given the task of overseeing a jury trial to sort the matter out. In four days of testimony, conflicting versions of the events appeared.
Starling admitted to a technical breach of the law in allowing a second experiment on the dog. He said he did it so that only one animal would die instead of two.
Bayliss testified that the dog was adequately anaesthetized and that any jerking of its limbs was caused by a disease called chorea that causes involuntary spasms. Four students corroborated Bayliss’s version of events.
The defence based its case on the observations of Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Leisa Schartau. They repeated their allegations that the dog appeared to be in great distress. However, Bayliss’s lawyers did a good job of undermining the credibility of the two women.
It took the jury only 25 minutes to agree unanimously that Sir William had been defamed, and Coleridge was required to write a cheque £5,000, close to half a million pounds in today’s money. Coleridge may have lost, but the case was recruitment gold for the anti-vivisectionists.
The Brown Dog Statue
The publicity surrounding the trial brought awareness to the public about the use of animals in medical experiments. To a large extent, the public was horrified.
Money was raised to pay for a statue to be erected as a memorial to the brown dog. The statue was unveiled in September 1906; it was a bronze sculpture of a dog on top of a granite plinth and featured a drinking fountain for people and a trough for dogs and horses. It carried the following inscription:
“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?”
Medical students took a very dim view of the statue and grumbled that anti-vivisectionists were living in the past and blocking the path to scientific advances. Then, they turned to more active dissent and attacked the statue with a sledgehammer. Riots followed in 1907.
Students from other universities faced off against anti-vivisectionists, suffragettes, socialists, and other progressives. Police, of course, became targets with fights breaking out in many parts of London, including Trafalgar Square.
The controversy blazed on until 1910, when authorities decided to remove the statue. Four workmen carried out the removal at night under the protection of 120 police officers.
A New Brown Dog Statue
The original brown dog was melted down, but the affair motivated tens of thousands to join the anti-vivisection movement; it is stronger today than it was at the start of the twentieth century.
In December 1985, a new brown dog statue was unveiled in a place close to where the original had stood. It includes the original controversial inscription, and, once again, it became a cause of discord. In 1992, it was put into storage, but protests followed. Once again, it was brought out and erected in a secluded spot in a park.
The story of the unnamed brown dog still inspires those who campaign for an end to animal testing around the world.
- Mark Twain was an opponent of vivisection. In December 1903, he wrote the short story, A Dog’s Tale, detailing the mistreatment of a family pet. It is written from the point of view of the dog. Stephen Coleridge ordered 3,000 copies of the story, which he distributed as part of the campaign against cruelty to animals.
- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers used 780,070 animals in tests during 2018; however, mice, rats, and fish are not included in the statistic. If those animals were included, the number used in research would be between 11 million and 23 million.
- According to speakingofresearch.com, Americans “eat over 340 chickens for each animal used in a research facility.”
- “The History of the Anti-Vivisectionist Movement.” Queen’s Animal Defence, February 18, 2015.
- “The Brown Dog Affair.” Lorraine Murray, Advocacy for Animals, January 19, 2010.
- “Brown Dog Statue.” Atlas Obscura, undated.
- “The Brown Dog Affair.” Emma White, The History Press, undated.
- “Statue (Lost): Brown Dog Statue - Original – Lost.” London Remembers, undated.
- “US Statistics.” Speakingofresearch.com, 2018.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Rupert Taylor
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 02, 2020:
Rupert, this is interesting. Animal protection need to be maintain and defend. No matter what medicine and doctors want to do and know. But thanks for sharing.