NCDL: going to the dogs since 1891

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1999:

A “small party of gentlemen”
brought together by Lady Gertrude Stock
during the first-ever Crufts dog show in
1891 incorporated the National Canine
Defence League to protect dogs from
“torture and ill-usage of every kind.”
Honoring heroic dogs helped
raise regard for the species. An early
honoree was Bob, who carried water to
British troops under fire throughout the
Boer War, 1899-1902. He filled bottles
strapped to his body by dashing into a
stream and lying down. He would then
return to the front.

Since 1912 the NCDL has also
honored people who at great risk have
rescued dogs from beatings, fire,
drowning, and other serious danger.
NCDL membership topped
1,000 in 1902, and reached 6,500 by
1910. Nine thousand people signed
NCDL petitions against the use of dogs
in vivisection during the first years of the
20th century. Legislation resulted, but
this campaign continues: 26,338 dogs
and cats were used in British laboratories
during the most recent fiscal year. (The
dog and cat numbers are reported by the
Home Office as a combined sum.)
Among other early achievements
for dogs won by the NCDL
through mustering public opinion:
• The NCDL in 1903 persuaded
British railways to use kennels instead
of “dog-lockers” [stocks] for dogs in
transit. The NCDL also convinced the
railways to allow staff to give water to
dogs in transit if they bore labels reading
“Please give my dog water.” The NCDL
printed and distributed tens of thousands
of the labels.
• The NCDL introduced the
Cruelty to Animals Bill in 1908,
enabling magistrates to seize abused animals.
This was incorporated into the
Protection of Animals Act of 1911,
which further enabled magistrates to prohibit
persons convicted of cruelty from
owning animals in the future.
• An unfounded rabies scare in
1919 brought compulsory muzzling of
dogs when in public. The NCDL defended
all persons prosecuted for disobeying
the muzzling law, and succeeded in
abolishing it in 1922.
• The NCDL was responsible
for the almost total abolition of performing
dogs from British music hall stages
by the mid-1920s. Extending this campaign
on behalf of dogs used in film,
NCDL in 1937 won legislation protecting
them––three years before the
American Humane Association gained
contractual authority to protect animals
used in U.S. films. The AHA contractual
arrangements are still not reinforced by
law; Britain and India, whose law protecting
animals in film dates to 1960,
remain the only nations with major
screen industries which have specific
legislative protection for animals used in
screen work.
• Beginning in 1939, the
NCDL convinced major dog shows to
abolish mandatory overnight kenneling.

Hard times
Although the NCDL was
founded by persons of privilege, they
were sensitive from the start to the difficulty
poor people might have in keeping
a beloved dog in times of exceptional
hardship. The Dog Licence Club,
founded in 1910, paid for more than
20,000 licenses for pets of the poor by
1987, when the dog tax was abolished.
Included were more than 12,500 dog
licenses bought for families whose major
breadwinners were away at war, 1916-
1918, and 4,500 bought for families of
unemployed workers in 1927, the worst
year of the Great Depression in England.
The NCDL began providing
free veterinary care to pets of the poor––
not just dogs––at a clinic opened in 1926.
By 1939 nine free veterinary clinics
around London served 80,000 animal
patients per year. The clinic at Hackney
was leveled by an air raid, but soon
reopened at a new location. Thirteen
clinics were in operation when this program
reached peak service volume in
1949. The last of these clinics closed in
1980, as their function had largely been
taken over by other charities.
In both World Wars, when
food became scarce and some public critics
began to suggest that dogs should
provide food rather than consume it, the
NCDL prevailed upon the Chancellor of
the Exchequer to reverse a plan to kill
half of the dogs in Britain by pointing out
that dogs as rat-catchers saved the nation
more than 75 million metric tons of food
per year.
During and after World War II,
the NCDL also educated the public about
handling dogs during air raids and feeding
them when meat was unavailable;
worked to rehome dogs used by the
armed forces and medical corps, as well
as mascot dogs left behind when military
training camps disbanded; and helped
soldiers who brought dogs home from
abroad to pay for the mandatory sixmonth
quarantine upon the dogs’ arrival
in Britain.
A more eccentric project was
collecting combings from dogs’ fur,
knitted into clothing for the troops.
The NCDL adopted its present
no-kill policy in 1964. Dogs who cannot
be rehomed become permanent shelter
––Adapted from
The History of the NCDL


NCDL 1998 year-end stats
1998 donors: 160,000
Dogs handled: 10,428
Returned home: 1,798 17%
Adopted out: 6,358 61%
In fostering: 542 5%
In home trial: 205 2%
Euthanized: 152 1.5%
Natural death: 50 0.5%

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.