Brown Dog Affair. An event that catalyzed an animal rights movement in early 20th century London. Anti-vivisectionists who had infiltrated medical lectures at the University College London reported abuse of the canine subjects of medical research and teaching. The researchers sued for libel, claiming that they were within the law. They won that battle in court but lost the war of public opinion. The brown dog—a terrier—whose vivisection had been the focal point of the case, became a cause célèbre.
In 1906, a memorial to the brown dog was erected in Battersea in the form of a drinking fountain for both dogs and humans, surmounted by a statue of a dog by sculptor Joseph Whitehead. As social and cultural historian Hilda Kean notes, it was unusual that “this was a dog without a name…[and that] the rationale for the monument did not emanate from a personal relationship between a ‘pet’ dog and his carer…The statue's function was both to commemorate the untimely death of the brown dog (thereby gaining publicity for the anti-vivisectionist cause) and to chastize scientists for their own absence of ‘human’ qualities, including lack of compassion toward an apparently trusting dog.” Demonstrations in London ensued that were so large that they were not eclipsed in size until 1990. There was even a counter-movement led by medical students. In December of 1907 thousands of these “anti-doggers” marched through the streets of London, clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists, and police officers in confrontations that became known as the Brown Dog Riots.
When conservatives took control of the local council in 1909, they voted to have the statue removed both because of the controversy and the £700 a year it cost to police the site. Despite (and perhaps because of) protests, the monument was taken down in the dead of night in the spring of 1910. It was replaced in 1985, but not without further controversy. Many felt that the new statue was inappropriate. Kean notes the distinctly different qualities of the new statute. The original showed the brown dog as proud and upright, “neither cowering nor whimpering but almost defiantly confronting his human vivisectors.” The replacement, by Nicola Hicks, is modeled after her own dog Brock. Kean pointedly states, “This is no longer an independent dog. He is not standing proud and defiant but in a pose engaging with an absent human, ear cocked, looking quizzical. The dog has changed from a public image of defiance to a pet, relating to one individual human companion. In turn, this brown dog has become an easier, less uncomfortable, subject for the contemporary viewer.” This is a statue about a statue—what the British call a heritage site—and not the equivalent of what it replaced. Quoting David Lowenthal, professor emeritus at UCL, Kean writes that “what heritage does not highlight, it hides.”
What Kean does not note is the striking similarity of the original memorial to the Monument to a Dog at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg, Russia where Pavlov did his research, in part through vivisection. It was constructed in 1935 to “pay a tribute to the dog's unselfish service to biological science.” Though perhaps that dog looks more patient than defiant.
I had never heard about this bite of history before embarking on this project. The events underline the perception that there is a dichotomy between humanism and science. The researchers are caricatured as cold-hearted and unmoved by the suffering of the dog, while animal rights advocates are dismissed as ruled by their sentimentality rather than reason. While the affair is a century in the past, the struggle seems little changed. The events have resonance for the contemporary animal rights movements. I would suggest that we consider the advice of Frederick Maurice, a 19th century Anglican theologian: “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.”
1. Gratzer, W. B. 2002. Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 224-227.
2. Kean, Hilda. 2003. An Exploration of the Sculptures of Greyfriars Bobby, Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Brown Dog, Battersea, South London, England. Animals & Society 11 (4):353-373.
3. Indopedia contributors. Nov 15 20042004. Brown Dog Affair. Indopedia. Bomis. Accessed Jul 25 2008 from http:// www.indopedia.org/ Brown_ Dog_ affair.html.
4. Wikipedia contributors. 2008. Brown Dog Affair. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Accessed Jul 25 2008 from http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Brown_Dog_affair.
6. Lowenthal, David, quoted in Kean.
7. Institute of Experimental Medicine. 2001. Monument to a Dog. Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Accessed Nov 27 2001 from http:// www.iemrams.spb.ru:8101/ english/ dog-monum.htm.