Target Health Blog

The Brown Dog Scandal

April 1, 2019

History of Medicine

Statue created by Joseph Whitehead, erected in 1906 in Battersea, London, in memory of the Brown Dog. The statue stood in Battersea from 1906 until 1910 and presumed destroyed in 1910.
Photo credit: Brown Dog statue, first published in 1906. The National Anti-Vivisection Society published it as a postcard that year, and various newspapers also published it. Wikipedia Creative Commons, Public Domain

The Brown Dog affair was a political controversy about vivisection which raged in England from 1903 until 1910. It involved the infiltration of University of London medical lectures by Swedish feminists, pitched battles between medical students and the police, police protection for the statue of a dog, a libel trial at the Royal Courts of Justice, and the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate the use of animals in experiments. The affair became a cause celebre which divided the country. The controversy was triggered by allegations that William Bayliss of the Department of Physiology at University College London performed an illegal vivisection in February 1903 before an audience of 60 medical students on a brown terrier dog. The dog was adequately anaesthetized according to Bayliss and his team, but it was conscious and struggling according to the Swedish activists. The procedure was condemned as cruel and unlawful by the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Bayliss's research on dogs led to the discovery of hormones, and he was outraged by the assault on his reputation. He sued for libel and won.

Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog as a memorial, unveiled on the Latchmere Recreation Ground in Battersea in 1906, but medical students were angered by its provocative plaque: “Men and women of England, how long shall these Things be?“ This led to frequent vandalism of the memorial and the need for a 24-hour police guard against the so-called anti-doggers. On 10 December 1907, 1,000 medical students marched through central London waving effigies of the brown dog on sticks and clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists, and 400 police officers, one of a series of battles known as the Brown Dog riots. Battersea Council sent four workers accompanied by 120 police officers to remove the statue under cover of darkness in March 1910, after which it was reportedly melted down by the council's blacksmith - despite a 20,000-strong petition in its favor. A new statue of the brown dog was erected in Battersea Park in 1985, commissioned by anti-vivisection groups. According to Peter Mason in 1997, all that was left of the old statue was a hump in the pavement, the sign on a nearby fence reading “No Dogs“.

There was significant opposition to vivisection in England in both houses of Parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901); the Queen herself strongly opposed it. The term vivisection referred to the dissection of living animals, with and without anesthesia, often in front of audiences of medical students. In 1875, there were approximately 300 experiments on animals in the UK, a figure that had risen to 19,084 in 1903 when the brown dog was vivisected. Irish feminist Frances Power Cobbe founded the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) in London in 1875 and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in 1898. The NAVS sought to restrict vivisection, and the BUAV sought to abolish it. The opposition led the British government to set up the first Royal Commission on the “Practice of Subjecting Live Animals to Experiments for Scientific Purposes“ in July 1875. The commission learned that researchers did not use anesthetics regularly and recommended a series of measures, including a ban on experiments on dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, and mules. The General Medical Council and British Medical Journal objected, so additional protection was introduced instead. The result was the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, criticized by NAVS as “infamous but well-named“. The Act stipulated that researchers could not be prosecuted for cruelty, but that the animal must be anesthetized unless the anesthesia would interfere with the point of the experiment. Each animal could be used only once, although several procedures were permitted if they were regarded as part of the same experiment. The animal had to be killed when the study was over, unless doing so would frustrate the object of the experiment. Prosecutions could take place only with the approval of the Home Secretary. At the time of the Brown Dog affair, this was Aretas Akers-Douglas, who was unsympathetic to the anti-vivisectionist cause.

In the early 20th century, Ernest Starling, Professor of Physiology at University College London, and his brother-in-law William Bayliss, were using vivisection on dogs to determine whether the nervous system controls pancreatic secretions, as postulated by Ivan Pavlov. Bayliss had held a license to practice vivisection since 1890 and had taught physiology since 1900. According to Starling's biographer John Henderson, Starling and Bayliss were “compulsive experimenters“, and Starling's lab was the busiest in London. The men knew that the pancreas produces digestive juices in response to increased acidity in the duodenum and jejunum, because of the arrival of chyme there. By severing the duodenal and jejunal nerves in anesthetized dogs, while leaving the blood vessels intact, then introducing acid into the duodenum and jejunum, they discovered that the process is not mediated by a nervous response, but by a new type of chemical reflex. They named the chemical messenger secretin, because it is secreted by the intestinal lining into the bloodstream, stimulating the pancreas on circulation. In 1905 Starling coined the term hormone - from the Greek “hormao“ meaning “I arouse“ or “I excite“ - to describe chemicals such as secretin that are capable, in extremely small quantities, of stimulating organs from a distance. Bayliss and Starling had also used vivisection on anesthetized dogs to discover peristalsis in 1899. They went on to discover a variety of other important physiological phenomena and principles, many of which were based on their experimental work involving animal vivisection. Starling and Bayliss's lectures had been attended by Swedish feminists and anti-vivisection activists Lizzy Lind of Hageby and Leisa Katherine Schartau, who had known each other since childhood. The two women visited the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1900, a center of animal experimentation, and were shocked by the rooms full of caged animals given diseases by the researchers. They founded the Anti-Vivisection Society of Sweden when they returned home, and enrolled as students at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1902, a vivisection-free college that had visiting arrangements with other London colleges, to gain medical training for their anti-vivisectionist campaigns. The two women attended 100 lectures and demonstrations at King's and University College, including 50 experiments on live animals, of which 20 were what Mason called “full-scale vivisection“. They kept a diary, calling it Eye-Witnesses and later The Shambles of Science: Extracts from the Diary of Two Students of Physiology (shambles was a name for a slaughterhouse). The women were present when the brown dog was vivisected, and wrote a chapter about it entitled “Fun“, referring to the laughter which they said they heard in the lecture room during the procedure.

According to Starling, the brown dog was “a small brown mongrel allied to a terrier with short roughish hair, about 14-15 lb [about 6 kg] in weight“. He was first used in a vivisection in December 1902 by Starling, who cut open his abdomen and ligated the pancreatic duct. For the next two months he lived in a cage, until Starling and Bayliss used him again for two procedures on 2 February 1903, the day the Swedish women were present.

Editor's note: Because I found some of the parts following three paragraphs upsetting, I'm making readers aware of this, in the event you want to skip over the next several paragraphs.

Outside the lecture room before the students arrived, according to testimony Starling and others gave in court, Starling cut the dog open again to inspect the results of the previous surgery, which took about 45 minutes, after which he clamped the wound with forceps and handed the dog over to Bayliss. Bayliss cut a new opening in the dog's neck to expose the lingual nerves of the salivary glands, to which he attached electrodes. The aim was to stimulate the nerves with electricity to demonstrate that salivary pressure was independent of blood pressure. The dog was then carried to the lecture theatre, stretched on his back on an operating board, with his legs tied to the board, his head clamped and his mouth muzzled. According to Bayliss, the dog had been given a morphine injection earlier in the day, then was anesthetized during the procedure with six fluid ounces of alcohol, chloroform and ether (ACE), delivered from an ante-room with a tube in his trachea, via a pipe hidden behind the bench on which the men were working. The Swedish students disputed that the dog had been adequately anesthetized. They said the dog had appeared conscious during the procedure, had tried to lift himself off the board, and that there was no smell of anesthesia or the usual hissing sound of the apparatus. Other students said the dog had not struggled, but had merely twitched. In front of around 60 students, Bayliss stimulated the nerves with electricity for half an hour, but was unable to demonstrate his point. The dog was then handed to a student, Henry Dale, a future Nobel laureate, who removed the dog's pancreas, then killed him with a knife through the heart. This became a point of embarrassment during the libel trial, when Bayliss's laboratory assistant, Charles Scuttle, testified that the dog had been killed with chloroform or the ACE mixture. After Scuttle's testimony Dale told the court that he had, in fact, used a knife. On 14 April 1903 Lind of Hageby and Schartau showed their unpublished 200-page diary to the barrister Stephen Coleridge, secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Stephen Coleridge was the son of John Duke Coleridge, former Lord Chief Justice of England, and great-grandson of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His attention was drawn to the account of the brown dog. The 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act forbade the use of an animal in more than one experiment, yet it appeared that the brown dog had been used by Starling to perform surgery on the pancreas, used again by him when he opened the dog to inspect the results of the previous surgery, and used for a third time by Bayliss to study the salivary glands. The diary said of the procedures on the brown dog:

Today's lecture will include a repetition of a demonstration which failed last time. A large dog, stretched on its back on an operation board, is carried into the lecture-room by the demonstrator and the laboratory attendant. Its legs are fixed to the board, its head is firmly held in the usual manner, and it is tightly muzzled. There is a large incision in the side of the neck, exposing the gland. The animal exhibits all signs of intense suffering; in his struggles, he again and again lifts his body from the board, and makes powerful attempts to get free.

The allegations of repeated use and inadequate anesthesia represented prima facie violations of the Cruelty to Animals Act. In addition, the diary said:

the dog had been killed by Henry Dale, an unlicensed research student, and that the students had laughed during the procedure; there were “jokes and laughter everywhere“ in the lecture hall

According to Mason, Coleridge decided there was no point in relying on a prosecution under the Act, which he regarded as deliberately obstructive. Instead he gave an angry speech about the dog on 1 May 1903 to the annual meeting of the National Anti-Vivisection Society at St James's Hall in Piccadilly, attended by 2,000 - 3,000 people. Mason writes that support and apologies for absence were sent by writers Jerome K. Jerome, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling. Coleridge accused the scientists of torture: “If this is not torture, let Mr. Bayliss and his friends tell us in Heaven's name what torture is.“ Details of the speech were published the next day by the radical Daily News (founded in 1846 by Charles Dickens), and questions were raised in the House of Commons, particularly by Sir Frederick Banbury, a Conservative MP and sponsor of a bill aimed at ending vivisection demonstrations. Bayliss demanded a public apology, and when by 12 May it had failed to materialize he issued a writ for libel. Ernest Starling decided not to sue. The Lancet, no friend of Coleridge, wrote that “it may be contended that Professor Starling committed a technical infringement of the Act.“ Coleridge tried to persuade the women not to publish their diary before the trial began, but they went ahead anyway, and it was published by Ernest Bell of Covent Garden in July 1903. The trial opened at the Old Bailey on 11 November 1903 before Lord Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice, and lasted four days, closing on 18 November. There were queues 30 yards long outside the courthouse. The British Medical Journal called it “a test case of the utmost gravity“. Bayliss's counsel, Rufus Isaacs, called Starling as his first witness. Starling admitted that he had broken the law by using the dog twice, but said that he had done so to avoid sacrificing two dogs. Bayliss testified that the dog had been given one-and-a-half grains of morphia earlier in the day, then six ounces of alcohol, chloroform and ether, delivered from an ante room to a tube connected to the dog's trachea. Bayliss said the tubes were fragile, and that had the dog been struggling they would have broken. A veterinarian, Alfred Sewell, said the system Bayliss was using was unlikely to be adequate, but other witnesses, including Frederick Hobday of the Royal Veterinary College, disagreed; there was even a claim that Bayliss had used too much anesthesia, which is why the dog had failed to respond to the electrical stimulation. Bayliss said the dog had been suffering from chorea, a disease that causes involuntary spasm, and that any movement Lind of Hageby and Schartau had seen was not purposive. Four students, three women and a man, were called by Bayliss's counsel and testified that the dog had appeared to be unconscious. Coleridge's barrister, John Lawson Walton, called Lind of Hageby and Schartau. They repeated they had been the first students to arrive and had been left alone with the dog for about two minutes. They had observed scars from the previous operations and an incision in the neck where two tubes had been placed. They had not smelled the anesthetic and had not seen any apparatus delivering it. They said, Mason wrote, that the dog had arched his back and jerked his legs in what they regarded as an effort to escape. When the experiment began the dog continued to “upheave its abdomen“ and tremble, they said, movements they regarded as “violent and purposeful“. Bayliss's lawyer criticized Coleridge for having accepted the women's statements without seeking corroboration, and for speaking about the issue publicly without first approaching Bayliss, despite knowing that doing so could lead to litigation. Coleridge replied that he had not sought verification because he knew the claims would be denied, and that he continued to regard the women's statement as true. The Times wrote of his testimony: “The Defendant, when placed in the witness box, did as much damage to his own case as the time at his disposal for the purpose would allow.“ Lord Alverstone told the jury that the case was an important one of national interest. He called The Shambles of Science “hysterical“, but advised the jury not to be swayed by arguments about the validity of vivisection. After retiring for 25 minutes on 18 November 1903, the jury unanimously found that Bayliss had been defamed, to the applause of physicians in the public gallery. Bayliss was awarded a settlement and Coleridge gave him a cheque the next day. The Times declared itself satisfied with the verdict, although it criticized the rowdy behavior of medical students during the trial, accusing them of “medical hooliganism“. The Sun, Star and Daily News backed Coleridge, calling the decision a miscarriage of justice. Ernest Bell, publisher and printer of The Shambles of Science, apologized to Bayliss on 25 November, and pledged to withdraw the diary and pass its remaining copies to Bayliss's solicitors.

The Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society, founded by Lind af Hageby in 1903, republished the book, printing a fifth edition by 1913. The chapter “Fun“ was replaced by one called “The Vivisections of the Brown Dog“, describing the experiment and the trial. The novelist Thomas Hardy kept a copy of it on a table for visitors. According to historian Hilda Kean, the Research Defence Society, a lobby group founded in 1908 to counteract the antivivisectionist campaign, discussed how to have the revised editions withdrawn.

Brown Dog memorial statue 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?

After the trial Anna Louisa Woodward, founder of the World League Against Vivisection, raised funds for a public memorial, and commissioned a bronze statue of the dog from sculptor Joseph Whitehead. The statue sat on top of a granite memorial stone, 7 ft 6 in (2.29 m) tall, that housed a drinking fountain for human beings and a lower trough for dogs and horses. It also carried an inscription, described by The New York Times in 1910 as the “hysterical language customary of anti-vivisectionists“ and “a slander on the whole medical profession.

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