A slogan is for life, not just for Christmas.
The good ones are, at any rate, and there are few more memorable maxims than that conjured up by Clarissa Baldwin OBE, chief executive of the Dogs Trust.
Back in 1978, when the charity was known as the National Canine Defence League, she was tasked with creating a slogan that could sum up the growing need to safeguard dogs in Britain.
A boom in pet shops meant thousands of unwanted dogs were being left to fend for themselves after their owners had decided to go back on their impulsive purchases. Something had to change. But it had to change cheaply, for the National Canine Defence had run out of cash.
‘We had absolutely no money at all – we were in the red,’ said Baldwin. ‘I was head of public relations at the time at the charity and I was asked to go away and think about how we could encapsulate our work with a message that was succinct, in a very cheap way.’
That evening, she went home and kicked around a few ideas for a slogan with her husband over a couple of glasses of wine. The result was a phrase that has become synonymous with the animal welfare crusade: ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’.
After the slogan was coined, it was pasted on to paper and sent out to 200,000 motorists in the form of car stickers. The message quickly caught on and has been a cornerstone of the charity ever since. It has also had a life of its own, making it into the Oxford English Dictionary of Quotations. It was trademarked about ten years ago, following many years of imitation by retail companies attempting to cash in on its wording to sell their own products.
The slogan’s 35th birthday is being celebrated this month by the Dogs Trust, who maintain it is still as relevant as it was in the late 1970s.
Baldwin, who became chief executive of the Dogs Trust in 1986, said the slogan is ‘one of the foundation blocks of the success of the charity now’.
She said: ‘It is a very simple message. It’s absolutely straight. People love dogs and I think they get the message that this is a sentient creature and must be treated as such.’
However, Baldwin, 64, from London, has conflicting feelings about the slogan today. ‘In my heart, half of me says how disappointing it is that the message is still needed, but the other half says you’ve got to educate the future generations of dog owners and it’s wonderful that the message is so enduring,’ she said.
‘It has helped us enormously and we don’t only use it at Christmas. This isn’t just a message for Christmas. This is just as appropriate for birthdays, Valentine’s Day or any other anniversary. It’s with us 365 days a year.’
In fact, the holiday mentioned in the slogan is far from the busiest time of year for the Dogs Trust, which looks after and rehomes 16,000 abandoned dogs a year.
‘We always get some puppies or old dogs over Christmas dumped, but the worst time of year really for us is the first school holidays of the year,’ said Baldwin. ‘They’ve been given a puppy at Christmas and they haven’t got the dog trained, then they’re going off on their skiing holiday or whatever and they think, “Oh my goodness, boarding kennels are expensive”, and quite often that is when the dog is thrown out.
‘There are also people who have bred dogs and haven’t been able to sell the puppies before Christmas. People think they are going to make money out of them and then they realise how much time and energy they take, and if they don’t sell them then they dump them.’
She said there are numerous occasions when puppies are simply left shivering in a box at the doorstep of the Dogs Trust. When a dog arrives there, it is assessed and seen by a vet, before being vaccinated, neutered and microchipped and sent to one of 18 rehoming centres in Britain. After that, the goal is to find it a home. The average rescue dog spends just under six weeks at the Dogs Trust, which has spent £6m on neutering, microchipping and education programmes in the past decade or so.
In the 1990s, about 45,000 dogs were destroyed annually – last year that figure had decreased to just under 9,000.
‘We don’t just want to be a sticking plaster – taking in the dogs and rehoming them – we wanted to do some good and change people’s ideas about dogs. They are for life,’ said Baldwin.
Microchipping of dogs will become compulsory in England in 2016. While Baldwin doesn’t believe it’s a cure-all for the problems caused by dog neglect, she said it will help with those animals that are lost or stolen.
She welcomed proposals announced in October to raise the maximum jail sentence for dog owners whose dog kills a child, from two to 14 years. The change is set to be introduced next year.
‘I feel very sad that it’s always the dog that gets blamed,’ she said. ‘Sentencing has gone up so it is the owners who will get prosecuted and could go to prison for 14 years – I think that’s absolutely right. It’s not the dog’s fault, it’s the human’s fault. Don’t ever leave a dog alone with a child.’
Go to DogsTrust.org.uk for more information
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