Could you pass my handbag – I mean – er my dog

Ten-year-old Alfie, a Chihuahua, is a former resident of Dogs Trust Harefield, and was rehomed by staff member.

It’s easy donating last season’s sequined purse to a charity shop or shoving it to the back of the wardrobe – it’s more problematic doing that to a miniature dog.

Animal welfare charities are warning of a celebrity trend, set by the likes of Paris Hilton and Coleen Rooney, that has caused a rise in abandoned ‘handbag’ dogs. People are realising, too late, that while fashionable for a day, keeping a canine under their arm, is not always practical for life.

Animal charity The Blue Cross has seen the number of abandoned toy dogs more than treble in five years while the Dogs Trust had a 44% increase from 2009 to 2010.

Four-month-old Pomeranian, Poppy, was bought last Christmas Eve by a 17-year-old boy. He got bored and passed her on to his mum, who had to bring Poppy to work with her. Within a few weeks, Poppy came to the Dogs Trust in Shoreham.

It is unclear whether it was Orlando Bloom’s Yorkie ‘Frankie’ or Mickey Rourke’s Chihuahua ‘Jaws’ that inspired that particular teenager to get dog friendly for his man bag.  What is clear is that animal charities have cause to believe people underestimate the needs of little dogs.

Ryan Neile, an animal behaviourist at The Blue Cross, said: “People assume that just because dogs are small they require less exercise and mental stimulation, but this is often not true. All dogs need appropriate outlets for their behaviour, otherwise they may become bored, frustrated or stressed, which could result in behaviour problems, such as being destructive in the home.

“Just because they are small enough to be carried around all day, doesn’t mean that they should be. Due to their size, people forget they are still dogs and they need to be treated and respected as such.”

The charity has seen the numbers of Bichon Frise, Chihuahuas, Shih Tsus, Yorkshire terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Pomeranians, Papillons and Cavalier King Charles spaniels rise from just 53 in 2005/6 to 177 in the past 12 months.

Pint-sized pups don’t come cheap either. Pedigree pups can cost more than £1,000 – and that doesn’t take into account vets bills, grooming costs or food.

People also forget what these so-called ‘handbag dogs’ were originally bred for.  For example, Yorkies, and most terrier dogs, were originally bred to catch and fight rats, and Lhasa Apsos were watch dogs for Tibetan monasteries in the Himalayas.

Some dogs are also prone to health problems. Chihuahuas can suffer heart murmurs and Pugs can have breathing difficulties and eye problems. These can result in large vet bills that people don’t take into account or may not be able to afford.

But despite celebrity influences, there are those who love the little breeds for their qualities and not just their portability.

University student Rhona Kirby, 20, from Haywards Heath, said: “I want a Maltipoo – it’s a cross between a Maltese and a Poodle and apparently all the celebrities have them but that’s not why I want them.  I looked into it properly – the Maltese part of them makes them docile and good companion dogs while the Poodle part makes them intelligent.

Rihanna and Jessica Simpson and the blonde girl from Gossip Girl – Blake Lively – all have one. They are everywhere in Hollywood. Vanessa Hudgens has one too but the fact that celebrities have them puts me off. I wanted them because they’re cute and intelligent.”

“I got a rabbit last week instead, only because I wouldn’t be able to manage a dog and work. I didn’t think that it would be fair to keep it indoors nine to five.”

When asked if she’d ever get a Maltipoo, Rhona said: “Definitely, but when I have more time to walk it. I’ll probably wait till I’m married so I’ll have someone else to walk it too!”

Sadly not all potential dog owners realise they haven’t the time to give. Shelby, a two-year-old Chihuahua, was brought to Dogs Trust’s Shoreham centre in August because her owner’s work commitments changed.

Two-year-old Chihuahua, Shelby, at Dogs Trust, Shoreham.

Nicole McCallum, Support Relations Officer for Dogs Trust’s Shoreham animal centre, said: “It’s a common reason in this current climate. Some people have to take on full-time work rather than part-time or have to move away.”

After featuring in the Daily Mail two weeks ago, Shelby got hundreds of calls of interest and the Dogs Trust found her a suitable new home.

Ms McCallum said: “She’s going to a couple – hopefully this week – with experience with nervous Chihuahuas, which Shelby is. She’s very scared of strangers. One of the staff has been fostering her, giving her lots of attention, playing with her, cuddling her on the sofa and Shelby absolutely loves that. Once she’s got past the fear, and has got used to you, she’s really lovely.

“The couple have been excellent. They don’t expect anything from her which is good for her, as it’s just about taking each day at a time. They understand what she needs which is great.”

I, for one, have had Lhasa Apsos for the past 15 years as a family pet and while our nine-year-old pooch Coffee is a little demanding for tummy rubs, she loves to run loose in fields, tell the neighbours’ cats where to stick it, and curl up on my dad’s newspapers.

Coffee sleeps on her back like a human.

New or young owners shouldn’t be put off by the needs of little dogs because they can bring a lot of life to a home.  They should just make sure it is the right dog for their lifestyle.

A dog is for life, not just for a handbag.

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Self-harming into adulthood

In a big city, it goes without say, there are a lot of people. After three months away, I’m living in London again, enjoying the sights, (not so nice) smells, and buzz that comes with being one of seven million inhabitants.

Having lived around this city for most of my formative years, I was proud to be a ‘Londoner’ – happy to identify myself to a place with such life, intellect, culture and diversity. But for the first time in my life – yesterday – I was ashamed of being one of the seven million people who walk the streets of London and fail to notice the next person silently in need of help.

While standing on a crowded tube train during evening rush hour, a woman, no older than 35, walked on and stood next to me. She was overweight, had dyed black hair with grey roots and unfortunately fitted a stereotype by sticking her hand into a plastic bag for more crisps than could fill her palm. I like to think I don’t judge and I most certainly didn’t take in her physical appearance until I saw her left arm.

Self harm scars

Self harm scars

There were parallel scars, close together, from her wrist to at least 10 centimetres up her forearm. I’ve seen so many types of people on London tube trains, from pervy foreign men to performing unknown rappers. And it is very easy to look away, and continue on with one’s day without a second thought.

It’s been over 36 hours and this woman is still on my mind. Who is she? Why did she ever feel the need to self harm? Does she have anyone to talk to? Will she do it again…

Oxford English Dictionary

Self-harm noun 

deliberate injury to oneself, typically as a manifestation of a psychological or psychiatric disorder.

The last time the word self-harming meant anything to me I was 16-years-old and my best friend was in a very low place and too far away from me for me to do more than send a supportive email or phone call. That was a scary time for me and I thought I felt very strongly against self-harming.

But then, one day, years later, I had a moment when I was so upset and hurting inside that I wanted a more physical pain to distract me. I took a knife and pathetically tried to cut my thighs. I couldn’t even attempt my wrists because I’m funny about seeing my veins and the thought of blood. I barely broke the skin. Like I said, a pathetic attempt and thankfully I’ve never felt like that again.

Self-harming is different to suicide because it’s not usually an attempt of suicide but just a way of expressing a deep emotional state of unhappiness or low self-esteem. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s not given nearly enough attention by medical services or support lines beyond the teenage years by my understanding anyway. Once I’d hit 20, I almost forgot that some people still feel the need to hurt themselves beyond the turbulent hormonal age of 16. Some people’s lives don’t improve or find solace in something greater.

Research shows that self-harming is most common among 15-19 year-olds while some start as young as 11. You might be finding work or school hard, suffering in an abusive relationship or even coming to terms with one’s sexuality. And self-harming isn’t just cutting oneself; it could be alcohol abuse, starving yourself, pulling out your hair, hitting yourself or burning your skin with a cigarette. It doesn’t really matter what brings someone to do it, the fact that they feel doing something to themselves is the only option they have, that is serious.

And this unknown woman on the tube is just one of possibly many that continue hurting themselves into adulthood. What do we do as nation, city or community do to reach out to someone like her? Does she even want someone to notice her scars or has she got used to them being there?

Would she have thought I was patronising or nosy if I’d said something to her? Or would she have been touched that a stranger could care? I don’t know and I think a lot more needs to be said on this hidden social problem that affects more people silently than we even know. We can be our own worst enemy, and if no one notices, it will not stop.

I for one, will hopefully say something next time. It never hurts to try.

Self harming awareness ribbon

Self harming awareness ribbon

If you come across the blog and need help, please ask someone.

Read this help from Mind, a mental health charity, or visit Harmless, a voluntary organisation for those who self-harm, their friends and families.

Facing Demons

I’ve been afraid of a few things over the years. When I was little, I was scared of the TV program The X Files and of putting my feet down on the floor for fear of having something or someone grab out from under the bed. While I admit these are typical of childhood horrors, fear most certainly continues into adulthood.

What am I talking about? Well I could mean a lot of things, like fear of failure and inadequacy or the continued longstanding fear of creepy crawlies (some things just can’t be grown out of).

I’m not trying to make a bold statement on the human psyche or the nature of fear – I’m trying to face my own demons.

I raise my hand to it – I’ve had a fear of writing for longer than I am willing to admit. I worried I had run out of things to say, that my style was flawed, or that I was forcing myself into the wrong genre. Why have I felt like this for so long? I’d be lying if I said the criticism of others hadn’t got to me, but I think it is deeper than just that. I’ve had such high expectations for myself that failing on the first, second or third round knocked me to the side and it’s taken a little while to pick up the boxing gloves again. Someone would always be writing better than me while I let those fears keep hold of me.

Which is why this is quite a turning point. It has been a very long time since I have written something with my own voice (even if it is out of fear of the fear!) and despite it being at 3am in the morning, I am glad I conquered the reluctance to put finger to keyboard and just wrote as my thoughts came to mind unfiltered. It’s a start for me to reclaim the satisfaction I once had from writing anything and everything.

But don’t worry, soppy self-deprecating writing stops here (she says, over confidently). I’ll begin to edit from the next post. Journalism, critical and fictional writing begin from humble sources, be it a napkin or a blog. Here is my start in the latter.