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.