Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The battle of the vivisected dog

Jack Effron
Bagmara, Bangladesh


 The original 1906 statue that caused all the trouble.

Medical education has not always been left to the professionals. In the past, and especially in London in the first decade of the twentieth century, it has become a political issue and caused rioting in the streets.

On February 2, 1903, at the University College in University of London in a physiology class, Professor Ernest Starling, assisted by William Bayliss, vivisected a small brown mongrel dog, about 6 kg in weight. The lingual nerves of the salivary glands were exposed and stimulated with electricity to demonstrate that salivary pressure was independent of blood pressure. The dog was stretched on its back on an operating board, its legs tied to the board, its head clamped and mouth muzzled.

There is some dispute as to whether the dog was, or was sufficiently, anesthetized. The dog had been injected with morphine earlier and, during the procedure, was given ACE (alcohol, chloroform, and ether). However, two Swedish students, enrolled in another medical college, who were anti-vivisectionists, kept a diary, including a summary of the event. They recorded that the animal exhibited “signs of intense suffering,” struggling and trying to lift its body off the board. The diary recorded that there were “jokes and laughter everywhere” among the sixty medical students in attendance.

After thirty minutes of electrical stimulation, the hypothesis remained unproven. The dog was given to a medical student, who removed its pancreas and killed it with a stab to the heart. The procedure appeared to contravene the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876. Under the Act, an animal cannot be vivisected twice: yet this was the second time that this dog had been vivisected. Also, under the Act, the professor should have killed the dog as soon as he had completed the second vivisection.

“The brown dog” soon became a political issue between the “doggers,” mainly left-wing animal rights activists, and “anti-doggers,” mainly aristocratic medical students. On May 1, 1903, the Secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, Stephen Coleridge, told an audience of more than 2,000 in London that the scientists had tortured a helpless little dog to death at University College. William Bayliss promptly sued Coleridge for libel. In July 1903, the two Swedish medical students, Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Leisa Schartau, published their diary, entitling the chapter about the vivisection “Fun” because of the other students’ apparent joy and laughter at watching the vivisection.

The libel trial of Bayliss v. Coleridge lasted four days in November 1903, with queues thirty yards long outside the courtroom to watch the proceedings. The jury decided that Bayliss had been defamed and ordered Coleridge to pay compensation to him. In December 1903, Mark Twain wrote an anti-vivisection story, “A Dog’s Tale,” in Harper’s Magazine and Coleridge bought 3,000 copies.

In 1906, the Liberal Government appointed a new Commission on Vivisection. After six years of hearings and considerations, it recommended strengthening the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876.

The next battlefield was Battersea, in London. The National Anti-Vivisection Hospital was founded there. Funds were collected from contributions to mount a bronze statue of the vivisection victim in Latchmere Recreation Ground. On September 15, 1906, the statue was unveiled in a well-attended ceremony, with George Bernard Shaw in attendance.

Soon the statue needed twenty-four hour police protection, at huge cost, to protect it from angry anti-doggers who wanted to damage it. To the upper class anti-doggers, the statue became a symbol of low-class leftist extremist domination of London and of the illiterate masses’ hostility to science.

In December 1907, the first of the Brown Dog Riots began, with 1,000 medical students carrying effigies of the brown dog, marching through London and fighting with police, trade unionists, anti-vivisectionists, and suffragettes. The next day, 100 medical students disrupted a speech by Lind and Schartau in Acton, with stink bombs and destruction of furniture. In February 1908, the medical students staged a silent protest in Parliament, packing the visitors’ gallery. Mainly they were angry that the anti-doggers had painted them and their teachers as sadistic murderers of defenseless animals. They felt that they needed vivisection to understand how the human body worked and how to improve human lives.

The Conservatives won the 1909 local elections in Britain and the Conservative majority on Battersea Council voted to take down the Brown Dog statue. Early 1910 saw demonstrations, petitions, and rallies throughout London against the decision. Lizzy Lind spoke to over 1,000 people in one such rally and doggers marched in Hyde Park wearing dog masks. Yet the statue was taken down in March 1910 and later melted down. It was not replaced until 1985 and the new statue can still be seen in Battersea Park today.

The whole controversy raises the question of the extent to which education, even medical education, is for the students or for society. The doggers and anti-doggers were almost on different planets, which is why they could only fight: the doggers cared only about what the students needed to learn and did not care about the dogs or society’s standards of behavior, while the anti-doggers did not care at all about the medical students’ education. That issue, of “education for the students or education for society,” is still with us and comes up in many forms (sex education, creationism, discipline, to name a few). Probably few if any medical students or teaching doctors would endorse vivisection now. Technology, by substituting other methods to teach the same things, has made such a stance easy.

Did the brown dog die in vain? Specifically, for the purpose for which it had suffered, it was probably not necessary to remove its pancreas or to kill it for any other reason. Yet the dog had been vivisected before and was pretty well “chopped up”: killing it was probably thought of as mercy killing. Its death certainly raised the issue of cruelty to animals to the forefront and was directly, if partially, responsible for later amendments to the relevant legislation, even if it did not do much for animals in scientific experiments at the time. The vivisection, if not the death itself, ultimately created a popular revulsion and consensus against vivisection and cruelty to animals which persists, at least in western countries, even today. All animals are probably safer today because the brown dog died. The cruel death of a martyr often achieves the greatest victories. Terrorists are trying desperately to gain such power. If you go through Battersea Park and see his statue, salute the brown dog!



  1. Murray,  L., “Brown Dog Affair” (2010) Advocacy For Animals http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/ explains that “vivisection” in 1903 meant, “cutting a living animal open” while today it means “any animal experimentation”.
  2. In general, see https://en.wikipedia.http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/org/wiki/Brown_Dog_affair
  3. These points are made by the National Anti-Vivisection Hospital website. http://www.navs.org.uk/about_us/24/0/286/
  4. http://hekint.org/2017/02/22/the-national-anti-vivisection-hospital-london-2. In fact, the hospital had been founded in 1896, but it was reincarnated in 1903 with the “National Anti-Vivisection” moniker and thereafter became known commonly in London as ‘the anti-viv’.
  5. No legislation was enacted to strengthen the 1876 Act until the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986 (c. 14), although there was a general Protection of Animals Act of 1911 (1 & 2 Geo V, c. 27) which did not deal directly with animal experimentation.



JACK EDWARD EFFRON, BA (cum laude) (Econ), LLB, PhD, completed his education at the University of Cincinnati in the United States, the University of British Columbia in Canada, the University of London in England, and Providence University in Taiwan. He has been a professor, lecturer, or visiting lecturer at Griffith University in Australia, Victoria University of Wellington, the University of the Philippines, the International Academy of Management and Economics in Manila, the Korean University of International Studies, Pannasastra University, and ASEAN University. He has been teaching English-medium education to children in Taiwan, Korea, and Bangladesh for the past nineteen years and is an author, freelance writer, and editor.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 10, Issue 4– Fall 2018
Winter 2018  |  Sections  |  History Essays

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