NEWSMAKER: Dogged distinction - Clarissa Baldwin, Chief executive, Dogs Trust

John Plummer

In the 1970s Clarissa Baldwin invented the phrase 'a dog is for life, not just for Christmas'. In the 1980s she became the first female chief executive of a major charity. But her abiding legacy to the voluntary sector this month was probably when she jettisoned 112 years of history by changing the name of the National Canine Defence League to the Dogs Trust.

Baldwin, 54, describes the move as "a big leap of faith". As someone who has been with the dog welfare charity for 29 years, and the last 17 of them as chief executive, she should know. "I'm going to have to have a swear box by my desk for every time I get the name wrong," she says.

Baldwin, a former fashion model, journalist and PR officer, admits the decision involved "a whole lot of heart searching". But she is adamant the old name, chosen in 1891 when a small party of gentlemen met during the first Crufts show to do something about dog cruelty, had to go. "National - well, we do a bit of work internationally now," she says. "Canine - there aren't any Latin scholars left. And we've had calls from people who think we help cats and ferrets. Defence has negative connotations, and league is just desperately old-fashioned."

Despite any confusion caused by the name, NCDL was fantastically successful. Since Baldwin became chief executive in 1986, income has risen from £1.1m to £27m - so why fix something that isn't broken?

The dogs charity toyed with a name change eight years ago but settled for rebranding itself under the acronym NCDL. Baldwin admits it wasn't successful.

"It was quite clear after a while that the initials were like alphabet spaghetti and even if you got past them some people still didn't know the 'D' stood for 'defence' - they thought it stood for 'dog'," she says.

"We have only six per cent unprompted awareness and that hasn't changed for a number of years."

NCDL hired brand strategy firm Interbrand to instigate a full name change, a move that won the approval of 89 per cent of its members and supporters. Doglife, Dogkind and the rather more ambitious Embark were chewed over before Dogs Trust got the nod. "I think it's a brilliant name," says Baldwin, who estimates the exercise cost £50,000. "It's clear and direct. Unlike so much advertising, it doesn't try to be too clever. It's so competitive out there now that a charity needs to have something memorable and distinctive."

Apart from bearing the new name, the logo is unaltered, as is the charity's heart. "The mission and ethos remain the same, but the name change reflects more adequately what we actually do in the 21st Century," says Baldwin. That means looking after animals rather than lobbying. But Baldwin admits that it's increasingly difficult to stay out of politics. The Government has told animal welfare charities they want to hear from one voice, not many, which has forced big players such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross and Dogs Trust to do some campaigning together.

They did so successfully on the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act, and the onus is on them to continue to speak as one if they want to be heard.

"We don't have a lobbyist, but we will campaign on issues that affect dog welfare," says Baldwin, who after three decades at the charity has become well connected. "We have made friends with a lot of MPs who are useful to us," she says.

Baldwin doesn't see charity togetherness extending beyond political co-operation. "People are always saying to me 'why don't you merge?' and I do think there is merit in that argument," she says. "But I think competition is enormously healthy. There could be a lot of apathy if you were the only one."

To coincide with this month's historic change, Dogs Trust published its annual State of the Nation's Dogs report, which revealed that the number of strays had fallen by six per cent to 111,016. Additionally, the number of dogs put to sleep had decreased by 22 per cent to 10,149.

The figures are a barometer of the charity's performance, given that its mission is to enable all dogs to lead a happy life free from the threat of unnecessary destruction. Any pleasure Baldwin takes in the statistics is tempered by scathing criticism of local authorities that destroy dogs. "Ten thousand dogs were killed in the past year which, for a nation of animal lovers, is absolutely appalling," she says.

Baldwin's 12 year-old rescue dog Bumble accompanies her to the charity's north London head office, where the old name is still emblazoned across the walls. Not many models go on to lead multi-million pound operations, and Baldwin, who describes her catwalk-to-chief executive progression as "going from being a coat hanger to hanging coats", has had a remarkable career.

Four years after she joined the National Canine Defence League, the then chief executive Colonel Roosmale Cocq told her it was about time they came up with a phrase to stop people buying puppies at Christmas. "I went home, thought 'oh, my God', sat around the table with my husband and a bottle of wine and came up with five," she recalls.

The selected phrase has since entered the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and been bastardised into everything from 'a ninja turtle is for life, not just for Christmas' to 'our no claims bonus is for life, not just for Christmas'. It has been copied so much that Dogs Trust has made the name a trademark, and asks companies to desist from using it. "When industry pinches, it I do get a bit uppity," says Baldwin.

Next year, the charity, which cares for 11,500 dogs each year, is redeveloping two of its 15 re-homing centres. It then plans to open three new ones.

And Baldwin's enthusiasm shows no signs of waning. "I have no intention of leaving just yet, but I hope I go before my sell-by date," she says.

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