In the 1870s, the Elizabeth Street vet, Alfred Sewell, provided veterinary services free of charge to ‘Battersea Dogs Home’. In 1905 when ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ (which later became the ‘Blue Cross’) was founded, both Alfred Sewell and his partner, Frederick Cousens extended their pro bono services to the charity.
Alfred Sewell’s involvement in what came to be called ‘The Brown Dog Affair’, reveals his keen interest in animal welfare.
The Elizabeth Street Veterinery Clinic as it was in the 1870s.
The Brown Dog Affair
At the turn of the 20th century, vivisection, or operating on live animals for scientific reasons, was considered ‘normal’. The Brown Dog Affair revolved around experiments in 1903 on a six kilo terrier at University College London. Two Swedish students had enrolled specifically to bring these experiments to the attention of the public and the surgeon in charge, Dr William Bayliss, was publically accused of vivisection. Bayliss brought a case of libel against his accuser, Stephen Coleridge.
Bayliss retained as his expert witness, the Principal of the Royal Veterinary College, Frederick Hobday, argued that he acted humanely. Stephen Coleridge’s expert witness, Alfred Sewell the Elizabeth Street veterinary surgeon, claimed that the dog was not properly anaesthetized.
Dr. Bayliss, the surgeon, said he had given the dog chloroform and ether delivered by pump into a tube connected to the dog’s trachea and had killed the dog with chloroform. However, the Swedish medical students said that they couldn’t smell anaesthetic gases or hear the humming of the anaesthetic pump. The surgeon then told the court that he had in fact killed the dog with a knife through its heart.
Sewell had a history of appearing for the prosecution in animal abuse court cases. For example, in 1886 he appeared in court as an expert witness on behalf of the RSPCA in a case of ear cropping of mature boarhounds. That prosecution was successful but in this instance Sewell was unsuccessful. The Brown Dog Affair rumbled on for year.
After Louis Sewell joined Sewell & Cousens, he too became an Honorary Veterinary Surgeon at Our Dumb Friends’ League and remained so until his unexpected and early death in 1930.
More recently, two Elizabeth Street partners have had extensive involvement in animal welfare. Until his death in 2019, Keith Butt was a long-standing Trustee of Dogs Trust (www.dogstrust.org.uk). Bruce Fogle was for 10 years Chair of Humane Society International (www.hsi.org) and is President of the West Sussex RSPCA (www.rspca.org.uk).