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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Thomas

The Brown Dog Affair

Updated: Mar 22

I focused on dogs for the first animal highlight of Season 6 of The Animal Turn and now I want to focus on one particular dog, Brown Dog, the dog at the heart of the Brown Dog Affair. 

Brown Dog was a small, brown stray terrier who somehow found himself in the hands of the medical school at the University College of London where he was used for vivisection which was still a common practice in 1903, as physicians researched and taught anatomy and physiology. In some ways Brown Dog was no different from the many, many other animals who undergo vivisection – he suffered as a result of the experiments he had to endure. The difference is that his suffering was witnessed by people opposed to vivisection and brought to the attention of the National Anti-Vivisection Society.

I’d like to be able to tell you more about Brown Dog himself but I couldn’t find anything recorded about him. Brown dog doesn’t even seem to have had a name, or, if he did, it wasn’t used at the time of his story and is now forgotten. What is recorded is the difference that he, and his story, made. So to tell you his story I need to tell you about the people who captured it in 1903 and it links really well to what Corey Wrenn was talking about in terms of social movements in relation to animal rights and feminism. 

Brown Dog’s story was brought to light by Leisa Schartau and Louise Lind af Hageby. Schartau and Hageby were anti-vivisectionists from Sweden who had enrolled at University College London to record vivisection practices there. Vivisection is the performance of surgery on live animals for the purposes of research as opposed to dissection which is the performance of surgery on animals after their death. Schartau and Hageby kept notes on what they saw, including the vivisection of Brown Dog, and they presented their notes to a man called Stephen Coleridge who was secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society.

Coleridge noticed from Schartau and Hageby’s notes that  Brown Dog’s vivisection was illegal – Brown Dog had been experimented on twice (although the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 stated that animals could only be experimented on once) and he hadn’t been killed directly after the experiments on him (again the Cruelty to Animals Act stated that this must happen). Because of the time which had already passed between Schartau and Hageby witnessing Brown Dog’s vivisection and Coleridge becoming aware of it he decided that a formal prosecution would be impossible. Instead he took what he thought was his only other option and publicly accused William Bayliss, the man who had carried out the vivisection, of breaking the law and of cruelty amounting to torture. Bayliss then sued Coleridge for defamation and the case played out in a trial which attracted a huge amount of public attention. Ultimately Coleridge was unable to prove his accusations and Bayliss was awarded damages. By then, though, public opinion was firmly with Coleridge and money was raised to cover the cost of the damages to Bayliss. 

Photo of the Brown Dog statue by Joseph Whitehead

But the story doesn’t end there – so much public sentiment had been aroused that the case wasn’t easily forgotten and in 1906 a statue was erected to Brown Dog with 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?"

Brown Dog, and the other dogs who shared his fate, were remembered and this story galvanized the anti-vivisection movement in Britain. It’s also important to note that the story of and around Brown Dog really escalated from here and became about more than Brown Dog himself. 

Medical students from University College London objected to the fact that UCL was identified and singled out as performing vivisection given that many other universities also did this at the time. They repeatedly attempted to vandalize Brown Dog’s memorial to the point that police were appointed to guard it around the clock. From this point the debate formed along class and gender divides with upper class medical students on one side and suffragettes (who were closely aligned with anti vivisectionists), trade unionists, working class people who lived near the statue, and other groups, forming an unlikely alliance on the other. Protests and demonstrations for and against the statue, and for and against vivisection, as well as other social movements, escalated and continued for years. Eventually, since the statue was seen as a catalyst for and focus of the protests, it was removed in 1910. 

Instead there’s now a memorial to the original statue. The new statue still has the original inscription but it’s in a different place and is markedly different from the first statue which commemorated Brown Dog. Brown Dog though is still remembered, and of course the ethics of using animals in medical experiments is still debated.

The more recent statue of Brown Dog by Nicola Hicks erected in 1985


Virginia Thomas is a fellow with the Animal Turn. She is also an environmental social scientist with a PhD in Sociology. Virginia is interested in people’s interactions with their environment and with other animals. Virginia’s work explores the social and ethical questions in human-animal relationships. She is currently a research fellow on the Wellcome Trust funded project ‘From Feed the Birds to Do Not Feed the Animals’ which examines the drivers and consequences of animal feeding. This leads on from her previous research which examined human-animal relations in the media (as part of zoonotic disease framing) and in rewilding projects (in relation to biopolitics and human-animal coexistence).

You can connect with Virginia via Twitter (@ArbitrioHumano).Learn more about our team here.  


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