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By Ann Evans

Photos courtesy of Dogs Trust.


There are some organisations that we’ve all grown up with, but it always interests me to discover their history and what they’ve overcome and achieved to get where they are today.


We all know that Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity. It cares for nearly 17,000 dogs each year through its network of 20 Rehoming Centres across the UK and one in Dublin. Most people will recognise their slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’.

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Throughout their history Dogs Trust has strived to protect dogs, campaigning for changes in government policy to improve the lives of all dogs. Their mission statement is to bring about the day when all dogs can enjoy a happy life, free from the threat of unnecessary destruction. Dogs Trust never puts a healthy dog down.


Dogs Trust, or as it was originally called, the National Canine Defence League (NCDL) was founded in 1891 to protect dogs from ‘torture and ill-usage of every kind’. It was during the first ever Crufts Dog Show held at the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, that a small party of gentlemen brought together by Lady Gertrude Stock vowed to campaign for the protection of strays, the provision of proper veterinary care and to campaign against muzzling, prolonged chaining, and experimentation on dogs – a widespread practice at the time. It also vowed never to turn down a reasonable request for help.

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The NCDL began operations funded entirely by donations from members and supporters. In 1902 membership reached 1,000 and it continued to attract supporters. In 1910 it had 6,500 members. Today Dogs Trust has over 550,000 members and supporters.


Over the years, Dogs Trust has continually campaigned on behalf of dogs to stop all manner of cruelty. For example, in the early 1900s it successfully campaigned to prevent experiments into the causes and effects of drowning and smallpox using live dogs. They presented a petition with 9,000 signatures to Parliament in support of the Dogs (Protection) Bill. In 1913 they campaigned against cruelty to dogs performing in circuses and music halls. In 1946 they campaigned against the chaining of dogs.

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Right from the start the NCDL believed that no one who clearly cared for and looked after their dog should be prevented from keeping it just because they were poor. So in 1910 they created the Dog Licence Club to help owners who needed help in paying for their dog licence.


In 1912 the first NDCL dogs home was opened in Fulham, London. In 1926 they opened a clinic in Bethnal Green and the same year saw their first animal ambulance hit the road. By 1939 they had helped 82,000 dogs at their clinics.


The charity has has always recognised kindness to dogs above and beyond the call of duty and in 1912 it began to award its silver medal to people who have rescued dogs from beatings, rivers, fires and other hardships. Dog heroes were awarded with inscribed silver coins. In 2008 Dogs Trust Honours Award was founded celebrating the difference dogs make to our lives, by highlighting heart-warming stories of devotion and courage.

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In 1964 the non-destruction policy was adopted by Dogs Trust. Since then dogs that cannot for some reason be rehomed, can be sponsored and become permanent residents at Dogs Trust centres.


In 1978 their slogan “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” was created by Chief Executive of Dogs Trust, Clarissa Baldwin OBE


In 2003 the National Canine Defence League changed its name to Dogs Trust.

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Dogs Trust is now active in ten countries around the world. In addition to being a rehoming charity it continues to work tirelessly within the community and alongside the Government to deal with a range of issues in society from dangerous dogs, so called “status dogs”, puppy farming and the online sale of puppies. Most notably they have been crucially involved in legislation on the animal welfare act, breeding, dangerous dogs, greyhounds and currently microchipping.


Just as in 1891 they rely on the generosity of the general public, legacies and fund raising to continue their incredible work with ‘man’s best friend’. 


Discover more by visiting the Dogs Trust website: