Our story

Discover our history, from our Victorian beginnings to our development into the UK's leading dog welfare charity.

Dog with lead in rehoming reception area with member of staff

Today, many dog owners think of their pet as a member of the family.

But when we were founded in the nineteenth century, attitudes were very different. For most people, dogs were there to do a job. Cruel practices, such as prolonged chaining, were common.

In 1891, Lady Gertrude Stock started the National Canine Defence League. Her small group vowed to campaign against cruelty.

In the decades that followed, the League continued to campaign for better dog welfare. It increased rehoming, survived two world wars and worked with partners overseas.

We became Dogs Trust in 2003. Since then, we’ve celebrated many successes, from helping to change laws to launching our Dog School.

We’re the UK’s leading dog welfare charity – and we’re proud of the many milestones in our history. You can read more about them in our timeline below.  

Foundation to the First World War

1891 Lady Gertrude Stock forms the National Canine Defence League at Crufts. The small group commits to campaigning against cruel practices. 

1899 A major campaign is launched against experiments on dogs. By 1910, fewer dogs are being used in this way.  

1911 The NCDL influences the Protection of Animals Act. Anyone convicted of cruelty can be stopped from keeping an animal. 

1910s The league campaigns against using dogs in music hall performances throughout the decade and beyond. One success was the rescue of performing dog Choclat.

Wartime work: 1914 to 1918

Throughout the First World War, the league defends its faithful friends, producing doggy gas masks and helping to pay for more than 12,500 licences for poorer families. The NCDL also lends a helping paw to dogs who'd had wartime roles, finding them new homes. 

Between the wars: 1919 to 1939 

1922 Compulsory muzzling of dogs ends, thanks to the league’s tireless work.  

1937 The league gives out leaflets on road safety to help reduce the number of dogs killed or hurt by cars.

The Second World War: 1939 to 1945 

The NCDL gives the public advice on dog care and protection during the war. It also joins forces with the RSPCA to build a shelter that accepts dogs in Kensington Gardens. After the war, the league finds homes for dogs who’d performed wartime roles. 

New activities: from 1960 to 2000 

1964 We adopt the policy to never destroy a healthy dog in its care.  

1967 Evesham rehoming centre opens: the earliest to open of all our existing centres. It was rebuilt in 2018. 

1970 Our rehoming centre in Ballymena, Northern Ireland opens. It was rebuilt in 2000. 

1978 Our slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ is created.  

1995 The Hope Project launches, providing free veterinary treatment for the dogs of owners facing homelessness. 

1996 The league appoints its first education officer and starts running workshops in schools.  

1997 The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is amended. Specific breeds of dogs no longer have to automatically be destroyed. This followed pressure from the league and other partner organisations.  

1998 The NCDL opens Oakfield, a home for older pooches, at its Shrewsbury rehoming centre.

1999 The NCDL begins its public education campaigns. They focus on neutering, microchipping and responsible dog ownership. 

Dogs Trust today: 2000 onward

2003 The National Canine Defence League changes its name to Dogs Trust. 

2004 The Freedom Project is launched. It’s a free dog fostering service to help people and their dogs escape domestic abuse.  

2006 We open our first rehoming centre in London – Dogs Trust West London in Harefield. 

2009 Begin lobbying the UK government to introduce compulsory microchipping of dogs. Dogs Trust Ireland’s Dublin centre opens.  

2012 Microchipping dogs becomes compulsory in Northern Ireland. 

2015 Dog School training classes are launched in nine locations across the UK. 

2016 Microchipping dogs becomes compulsory in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. Dogs Trust Worldwide, which carries out and supports projects overseas, is registered as a separate charity. 

2017 Dogs Trust USA is established as a not-for-profit organisation, to work with partners across the USA on improving dog welfare. 

2020 As the Covid-19 pandemic reaches the UK, we move much of our work online. This includes the rehoming process and our Dog School training classes. As puppy sales rise and rehoming enquiries increase, we temporarily change our slogan to ‘A dog is for life, not just for lockdown’. 

2021 Dogs Trust Cardiff opens. Featuring a variety of dog-focused facilities, our 22nd centre. 

Our future plans

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved over the past 130 years. But there’s still much to do to make the world a better place for dogs.  

We’d like to support even more dogs to live their best life – and find a happy new home. We need to reach many more owners and help them to build a better bond with their dog. And there are so many urgent problems we need to help resolve, such as puppy smuggling.  

You’ve read about our past successes – please support us today so we can help generations of dogs into the future. 

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