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The Brown Dog affair


In February 1903 a typical event took place in the teaching rooms of University College London in front of students. A live brown dog laid on a table was operated upon in order to find out how certain procedures would affect it. This process was called vivisection and was completely legal at this time.

Many teaching institutions, though not all, used the method in order to advance scientific knowledge and it undoubtedly contributed to medical understanding. Opinions on vivisection had been growing more negative over the years and Queen Victoria was opposed to it – unsurprisingly as she was a dog enthusiast. 

On this particular day, two female students who had enrolled at the London School of Medicine for Women and were anti-vivisectionists had come to the university with the purpose of recording such acts. Leisa Schartau and Louise Lind af Hageby were from Sweden and had formed the Anti-Vivisection Society of Sweden. After witnessing numerous vivisections they presented a diary that they had kept to Stephen Coleridge, the secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, which had been set up in 1875. 

The account of the vivisection of the brown dog particularly worried Coleridge as, judging from what the two women had written, he suspected that the procedures and rules that were in place to protect the animals were not being observed. 

He worried that the surgeon, Dr William Bayliss, was not anaesthetising the dog properly and prolonging the suffering of the creature. At that time a case involving vivisection against a surgeon could only be brought with the permission of the Home Secretary. Unfortunately, the current incumbent of this position was not sympathetic to the opinions of the anti-vivisectionists. Therefore Coleridge decided instead to speak out against the procedure and the doctor publicly.

Following Coleridge’s public discussion of the incident, William Bayliss filed a lawsuit against Coleridge for libel. The case was tried at the Old Bailey in November 1903 and, after days of testimony, William Bayliss won. His damages and legal fees were ordered to be paid by Coleridge, who was helped by a London tabloid that launched a fund in order to raise the money.

Although the case had been lost, the work of the anti-vivisectionists was publicly aired and received a lot of celebrity support. A statue was designed to memorialise the dog and was erected in Battersea at the Latchmere Recreation Ground in 1906. After the erection of the statue, a series of riots began to occur, organised by medical and veterinary students, over the issue and particularly over the inscription on the statue:

In memory of the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903 after having endured Vivisections 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 in the same place during the years 1902-3.

Men and Women of England

How Long shall these things be?

The statue became the focal point for these riots and required seven police officers a day to protect it. After so much controversy, the matter was discussed by Parliament and it was eventually decided by the local council that the statue would be removed. This happened on the night of 10 March 1910 so as not to arouse opposition. It is believed that the statue was destroyed and then melted down. 

In 1985 a new memorial to the brown dog was erected in Battersea Park. Vivisection is no longer the main reason for which the dog stands, and it instead stands for the divisive situation of animal testing which still happens in laboratories all over the world. It certainly serves as a reminder to the past and to another role that dogs have undertaken, although unwillingly, in human history.

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