Lessons from a little brown dog

Yesterday UCL, along with 40 other organisations, signed a declaration of openness on animal research. According to this the university will ‘develop principles of openness and measurable objectives underpinning a more transparent approach to animal research.’ This declaration comes in response to the latest Ipsos MORI data that shows a 10% drop in the levels of public acceptance of animal research.

UCL’s provost, Malcolm Grant, said, “the majority of people in this country understand that animal research remains an important part of the scientific process, delivering real benefits in terms of safe drugs and new medical procedures.” The Ipsos MORI poll also reveals that   most people in the UK believe that Britain has tough rules governing animal experimentation, and that they are well enforced. In comparison with many other places around the world, this is almost certainly true. To understand our journey to the strict regulation we have today, it is worth looking back at UCL in the very early twentieth century.

The statue pictured above provides a clue, it was erected in Battersea Park in 1906, bearing a defiant dog standing proud on its pedestal, and the 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 statue was born out of a controversy that raged in England for seven years, from 1903-1910. The trigger for the controversy was an allegation an illegal vivisection had been performed by William Bayliss before 60 medical students. The procedure was condemned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society, meanwhile Bayliss argued that dog had been properly anaesthetised. Much as today, medical science progressed as a result of experimentation on animals – Bayliss discovered hormones as a result of his work with dogs. But the question remained, do the ends justify the means?

The statue was regularly vandalised and on one notable occasion, a group of UCL students tried to attack the statue. Ten of the students were arrested and fined as a result. The following day there were protests in Tottenham Court Road, and followed again the next day by hundreds of students demonstrating and holding effigies of the brown dog. The anti-vivisection movement became linked with the womens’ rights movement and suffrage, and meetings in London were often interrupted by pro-vivisection protestors. One such meeting was invaded on the 5th of December 1907, leading to several days of rioting that came to a head on the 10th of December 1907 with a group of over 1000 protestors congregating in Trafalgar Square.

The statue above was removed in one night in 1910, before dawn, with the protection of over 100 police officers. Battersea Council could no longer stomach the controversy, and the police costs for defending the statue were mounting. It is thought the original statue was melted down. However, the little brown dog was not forgotten, and another statue was commissioned and erected in 1985. It still resides in Battersea Park, albeit in a rather secluded spot. On my recent visit there was a fresh posy of flowers suggesting that despite the best efforts of many, the controversy around the brown dog – and vivisection more generally – still survives.

For a fuller version of events, the Brown Dog Affair is discussed in an excellent Wikipedia article.

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