The former CEO of Dogs Trust Clarissa Baldwin coined the famous slogan, ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, back in 1978, but the current CEO Adrian Burder believes the message is just as important now

How has Dogs Trust evolved in the 20 years you’ve been a part of it?
Well it’s coming up to a year now too [since taking over as CEO]. It’s evolved enormously. We were a relatively small charity back then. When I first joined we were based in Camden and I was there six months before we moved [to Angel]. We had probably about nine rehoming centres then – now we have 21 and they are really state of the art. Back in those days the centres were not the standard expected. So that’s changed enormously. We do a lot more now on the prevention side, microchipping, neutering dogs, youth education and we also work internationally. When we moved into the offices on Wakley Street we had 25 staff in there – now that is probably 125. It’s a really exciting time to see all that change.

When I have been to the Angel HQ I’ve noticed the positivity…
Part of the ethos of the charity is that we are very positive. We don’t like using shocking images, we look to stories that are uplifting and show the unique bond between man and dog – and that’s very happy! We don’t destroy healthy dogs, but I do see the worst of human nature at times.

Was it quite daunting following on from Clarissa Baldwin?
[Nods] I am not the legend my predecessor was – I would probably need to work here for another 25 years to get there! But it’s a place where I knew the culture and the great team, so that helped.

Is there a particular challenge facing Dogs Trust today?
The new issue emerging are puppies being smuggled into the UK from Eastern Europe, which does cause us concern. The conditions they are brought in for a start, how they are transported, and then there’s the risk of these dogs bringing in diseases. It’s so easy to get a dog now. There was a time if you wanted a particular pedigree dog, you would need to meet the breeder and maybe wait months and months – now you can just go online, type in ‘I want a French bulldog tomorrow’ and you can order one. We know a lot of those puppies are not in the best health.

Is Christmas an important time for the Dogs Trust message to get across?
It’s the biggest time of year to get the message across. People think that nobody buys a puppy as a present these days, but they do. I got my dog [a black Labrador] in January, he had been born a week before Christmas and the owner brought him in to a centre as they couldn’t cope. My PA also got a dog at the same time, so it definitely does happen.

Most people are aware of the ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ slogan – but is this still an issue?
Yes and this is not something to be done lightly. Because of the opportunity to buy online it’s more of an issue today than it was 15 years ago. It’s very sad, but it’s the society we live in. Not many people are going to our rehoming centres as you do have to go to one, meet a member of staff as we do look to match the right dog to the right owner… It takes time. There will be people there to help you and advise you.
Do you plan for Christmas early?
Absolutely. People will be looking at Christmas cards from January, learning from what sold the previous year and what didn’t sell so well, having a look to see what’s out there and the new trends. Christmas cards are a big seller for us.

Will there always be work to do at Dogs Trust?
There will always be problems in the UK. The stray dog situation has definitely got bad. We do work a lot with the homeless and we always work to help people in bad domestic situations where they have dogs. Quite often someone will not leave a relationship because of their dog and most refuges don’t take dogs. We step in and help find a foster home for the dog. Dog training is something I would like to see us do more of, go out into the communities and show how to train their dog. There’s a lot of ignorance about that. It’s only positive training – a lot of others think more negatively with punishment, but we don’t like that. [I mention that their education work is fabulous] Yes we have got 27 full-time education officers and they have done something incredible like 9,000 workshops this year. It’s great to talk to kids at a young age as they absorb information. The lessons they learn at that age will stay with them all their life.

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