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National Antivisection Society

The little brown dog

. Updated: 29 March 2012



On Thursday, December 12 1985, the NAVS erected a statue of a little brown dog in Battersea Park, London, to commemorate the suffering of millions of laboratory animals worldwide, but also, to ensure that the suffering of one dog is never forgotten.

This was not the first such statue, however. After 76 years, the statue of the ‘Brown Dog’, a famous terrier who had been the victim of vivisection at University College, London, had been replaced. The original had been removed in the spring of 1910, so today’s statue is a contemporary one, although carrying the same inscription as the original.

Top: The brown dog statue erected in the 1980s
Below: The original brown dog statue

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The issue of the Brown Dog was a key feature in the first undercover investigation of animal experiments by anti-vivisectionists, and the subject of the 1903 Bayliss-Coleridge libel case - Dr Bayliss of London University versus the Honorary Secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society.

The story of the Brown Dog and his memorial goes back to December 1902, when Professor Starling at University College London performed his first operation on the terrier dog, depriving it of the use of its pancreas. During the following two months the dog lived in a cage, upsetting many with its howls and whines.

In February 1903, Professor Starling opened up the dog’s abdomen to inspect the result of the first operation. He then clamped the wound with forceps and handed the animal over to Dr. Bayliss, who made a completely new wound in the neck for the purpose of a lecture demonstration to students. After another half hourthe animal ,apparently suffering greatly, was given to Mr. Dale, an unlicensed research student who killed it either by chloroform or by surgical means.

Two Swedish anti-vivisectionists, Leisa Schartau and Louise Lind-af-Hageby, who had enrolled as students at the London School of Medicine for Women so that they could learn first-hand about the work in such laboratories, attended that lecture demonstration. They carefully noted the facts of this case in their diary, in which they were recording the details of the experiments they had witnessed during their studies at UCL.

It was not long before Schartau and Hageby gave up the idea of working for a degree for, as they put it, "physiology is at present inseparable from experiments on animals". They decided to show their diary, which was now a substantial manuscript, to the Honorary Secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the Hon. Stephen Coleridge. The information which they recorded was later to form the basis of a book entitled ‘The Shambles of Science’, which caused quite a stir at the time. (The book remains in the NAVS archive today.)

The Hon. Stephen Coleridge, who took up the appointment of Honorary Secretary in 1897 (remaining until 1936) came from a family of committed anti-vivisectionists; his father had been one of NAVS’ vice-presidents and Stephen had not been converted to, but born into the cause. A barrister by profession, Coleridge came from a distinguished family, which had connections with many influential people. It was once said, whether in appreciation or in malice, that in dividing the human race one would have men, women and Coleridges. It was from this man that the two Swedish women sought advice.

Coleridge examined their material and was particularly struck by the evidence presented in a chapter entitled ‘Fun’ - in a later edition of ‘The Shambles of Science’ it was given the heading ‘The Vivisections of the Brown Dog’. It described how the supposedly serious business of vivisection demonstrations in medical schools were often no more than entertainments. The allusion to the hilarity of the students and the general levity of the occasions aroused Coleridge’s indignation. The subject of such mirth in the chapter - a brown terrier dog - was not particularly emphasised.

Coleridge, however, immediately spotted that there had been two infringements of the law - first that under the British legislation of 1876, the Cruelty to Animals Act, an animal may not be used for more that one experiment; second that for lecture demonstrations, which require a special certificate, anaesthesia was mandatory. The law had therefore been broken twice. Then, as now, a prosecution can only be brought if it is within six months of the alleged offence and has the approval of the Home Secretary. It seemed to Coleridge that it would be almost impossible to succeed by following that particular path, but one loophole remained. Anyone who has the evidence can make a public accusation.

In May 1903 Coleridge read a statement regarding the matter in St James’ Hall, London. This resulted in an action for libel being brought against him by Dr. Bayliss, who had no choice but to sue Coleridge; to do nothing would be as good as admitting the charge. Coleridge refused to apologise, insisting that Professor Starling, under the 1876 Act, should have killed the dog as soon as the object of the experiment had been attained, that is after he had performed his second vivisection.

It was clear that Professor Starling had not killed the dog when he was legally obliged to do so. Indeed, he did not complain about being libelled. The case rested on whether handing the dog over to Dr. Bayliss was a permissible way of destroying it and, for this fact to be established, evidence was required to prove that the dog had been properly anaesthetised during the lecture demonstration. If the dog had not been, then Bayliss was guilty of a criminal act. Could Coleridge prove that the dog had not been properly anaesthetised?

Coleridge’s chief witnesses were, of course, Schartau and Hageby. They testified that as the first students to arrive for the lecture they saw the dog in the passage in readiness for the demonstration and followed Bayliss (and his attendant) into the lecture room. They had been alone with the dog for about two minutes during which time they examined it themselves. They had noticed the scars from the previous operations. They observed that there was an incision in the neck in which two tubes had been placed and that there was no smell of anaesthetic. The dog was making purposeful movements which suggested that it was conscious. However, at the trial, the anaesthetic condition of the dog could not be proved, nor was it possible to prove the statement of Bayliss that the dog was suffering from hemi-chorea (ceaseless occurrence of rapid jerky involuntary movements) which accounted for its alleged movements. The evidence was inconclusive and after four days, the trial ended in favour of Dr. Bayliss who was awarded 2,000 damage for libel. This looked like defeat, but the matter did not end there. Public opinion had been aroused. There were innumerable leaders and letters in the press. The press itself was divided on the verdict - ‘The Times’ upheld the decision of the court; ‘The Daily News’, along with other newspapers and journals, described it as a miscarriage of justice.

’The Daily News’ opened a subscription fund to defray the damages and costs of the trial. So strong was public feeling in favour of the dog that no less than 5,735 was collected in four months. Coleridge had lost his case, but not with the public. For many, the Brown Dog affair could not be easily forgotten and the outcome of the trial continued to rankle. It was therefore decided to erect a statue in memory of the Brown Dog. A further appeal was made to raise money for the monument, largely organised through the efforts of Miss Woodward, founder of the World League against Vivisection and Honorary Secretary of the International Anti-Vivisection Council, the society which presented the memorial to Battersea. The memorial was unveiled by the Mayor of Battersea on 15 September 1906. Edward Ford in his book, ‘The Brown Dog and His Memorial’ published in 1908, recalls how he first came to learn about the Brown Dog affair. Walking along the Strand one winter evening, Ford became caught up in a rowdy group of young medical students who thrust a stuffed animal into his face. They were in a militant mood, and singing a song set to the tune of Little Brown Jug: "Ha, ha, ha! Hee, hee, hee! Little Brown Dog do we hate thee!"

Puzzled by what he had witnessed and eager to find out more, Ford turned to a policeman standing nearby and asked what it meant. Pointing to the students, the constable replied, “It’s only them Brown Doggers, Sir". Ford soon discovered what had aroused such emotions - a memorial in Battersea. Ford decided to visit Battersea. What he saw was a drinking fountain on top of which sat a demure life-size bronze dog. Around the fountain was 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 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?’

The dog itself had a mild expression and wore no martyr’s crown. However, after speaking to the two policemen who were on duty guarding the memorial, it became clear to Ford that this seemingly peaceful spot had turned into a battlefield. From 20 November 1907 onwards, the day on which the first incident took place - a year after the erection of the monument - numerous attempts were made by students from university College (and elsewhere) to wreck the bronze statue - all were unsuccessful, although the dog was daubed from time to time with red paint.

The local people of Battersea, meanwhile, had grown rather attached to their canine friend and were determined that no harm should come to it. Punch-ups and demonstrations between the two warring factions - the young ‘gentlemen’ from University College and the working class youth of Battersea - were a regular occurrence. These skirmishes became known later as the ‘Brown Dog Riots’.

The students were particularly incensed by the inscription which they felt singled out one college and attacked it for using animals in experiments. They argued that the majority of universities were also involved in the practice of vivisection. An attempt to persuade Battersea Metropolitan Borough Council to sanction the proposal to remove the inscription failed; most councillors believed that the inscription was based upon fact.

However, with the election of a new Council of a different political hue, the situation changed and, on 9 March 1910, the Council approved the decision to remove the monument. An injunction to restrain the Council from dismantling the statue came too late. The memorial was removed in the early hours of 10 March following the Council meeting on the previous evening.

The removal provoked much controversy, not only in Battersea, but from a wide area of London. Public disapproval reached such a pitch that on 19 March more than 3,000 people marched from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square, where a public meeting was held.

Attempts were made to have it put back in subsequently, but the memorial disappeared.

The NAVS, which all those years ago was the defendant in the ‘Brown Dog Trial’, had succeeded in bringing the attention of the public to the suffering of laboratory animals, and still believes today that vivisection can only continue whilst it is carried out in secret.

Successive goverments have protected laboratory workers from public scrutiny and public accountability.

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