(Beth Hale, Daily Mail) — Padding along the path, Sammy the long-haired dachshund took a few steps before stopping abruptly and plonking himself down on his silky rump. Refusing to move, he looked up with a doleful pair of brown eyes, pleading to be carried.
It was clear from the moment Sammy arrived at a rehoming center early last year that he was a dog with problems. In fact, the poor thing didn’t really know how to be a dog at all. For the best part of two years, he had been carried around under his owner’s arm or in a handbag.
The cute bundle of fur had become a prima donna on four miniature legs, with no understanding of simple things such as going for a walk or how to behave around other dogs. ‘I’ve never fallen so much in love with a dog,’ says Dogs Trust education officer Charlotte Peters.
‘He was absolutely gorgeous, he would give you those eyes that would make you melt but, oh, he was so badly behaved. His female owner had carried him around everywhere. She spoiled him rotten, treated him like a baby, so left him with a lot of problems — he’d snarl if you patted another dog in front of him.
‘He had to be the center of attention. And if you tried to take him for a walk he would trot along for a couple of minutes, then stop, sit down and expect to be picked up.’
A sorry tale and, unfortunately, one that is increasingly being played out at animal rescue centres around the country. This week, the Dogs Trust — the country’s largest dog welfare charity — revealed the last year had seen more than 400 so-called handbag dogs being dumped at their doors, a 44 per cent increase.
Why? Largely because the dogs’ owners became bored with them, much as a child gets bored with a new toy.
Inspired by stars who treat these tiny pets as just another fashion accessory, celebrity-obsessed members of the public have been buying the dogs on a whim, only to find they can’t cope with them or afford them. The dogs can cost upwards of $1,500, and that’s before any food, grooming or vet bills are taken into account.
The Dogs Trust is so concerned about the trend for teenagers to acquire handbag dogs simply to be ‘cool’ that it’s launching a dog-care education program for schools.
For many, it is already too late. This is why hundreds of pint-sized pooches ranging from Chihuahuas and dachshunds to Shih Tzus and Pomeranians, once spoilt rotten as they peered out from their owners’ designer handbags, are having to adjust to life in the less than salubrious surroundings of rehoming centers.
The trend for these pampered pooches was fuelled by the likes of Paris Hilton, who is constantly seen tottering with her Chihuahua Tinkerbelle under her arm — the poor pup usually dressed in outfits colour co-ordinated to match her own.
But she’s by no means the only culprit. The list of celebrities with handbag-sized dogs includes Madonna and Britney Spears, who have Chihuahuas, Eva Longoria with her pug, and Coleen Rooney with Daisy the Bichon Frise.
But despite their diminutive size, little dogs can be very demanding. And it seems that in the real world, many owners can’t cope.
In 2009, 285 toy dogs were handed in to the Dog Trust’s 17 rehoming centers; last year, 409 were given up. The vast majority of the animals were less than two years old.
‘People like to mimic the stars,’ says Clarissa Baldwin, chief executive of the Dogs Trust. ‘The problem is that when the new dog owner gets their pet home they realize that actually it’s not what they want after all.
‘Perhaps they get bored, perhaps they don’t see photographs of the celebrity they admired with their dog any more and, eventually, they end up getting rid of it.’
Her point could not be more sharply illustrated than in the case of Sammy the dachshund, who found himself at the Dogs Trust in Harefield, West London, after narrowly avoiding being put down.
Mollycoddled and spoilt, Sammy became so unmanageable that his young female owner made the extraordinary decision to take him to the vet and put him to sleep. ‘Fortunately, the vet called us and we were able to help,’ says Charlotte Peters. ‘But even though he had a close call, Sammy went to four homes before he found the right one.
‘Finally, in July, he went to a married couple in their 40s with two other dogs, who have worked with him to train him out of his bad manners.’
Earlier this year, the Blue Cross animal adoption center in Southampton saw another extreme result of the handbag dog phenomenon when it took in two 20-month-old Pomeranians named — wait for it —Britney and Diesel.
‘Britney was so used to being carried that she refused to walk and was terrified of the lead,’ says center manager Lara Alford.
‘We found out she had never been out on walks and was just used to being cuddled and fussed over. We tried everything we could to make her walk on the lead, but as soon as we brought it out she lay on the floor and played dead. Eventually, we found her a new owner, who had to carry her home.’
Then there was Poppy, a four-month-old Pomeranian puppy handed in to the Dogs Trust in Shoreham, West Sussex. Poppy was bought on a whim by a 17-year-old boy on Christmas Eve as the perfect accessory for his ‘man bag’. Perhaps he’d been inspired by Robbie Williams, who is sometimes seen carrying his Pekingese in a bag.
Within a week, the teenager was bored of carrying the tiny pup around and gave the dog to his mother, who handed it to the center a few weeks later.
Julie Bedford, head of behavior for the Blue Cross, has seen such outcomes too many times. ‘People seem to think small dogs are easy,’ she says. ‘But they aren’t. In fact, some of the terrier breeds are very active because they have been bred to chase rabbits down holes.’
Dachshunds, for instance, were bred to go after badgers, which are ferocious opponents, so when they get scared they can be snappy.
And it’s not just behavioral difficulties that owners can find themselves dealing with. Many toy dogs are prone to conditions such as luxating patellas, in which the kneecaps on the rear legs slip out of place, causing pain, stiffness and difficulties walking.
If the dog does not get enough exercise because it spends most of its time being carried, it can put on weight, which puts more strain on the joints.
Other breeds, such as the pug, can face difficulties as a result of the very features that make them so popular. Their squashed faces can mean they are prone to breathing difficulties and eye problems, their curly tails can be associated with spinal difficulties and even the folds of their skin need careful attention to ensure they don’t gather dirt.
Yet that hasn’t stopped them becoming a celebrity favorite — with the likes of Kelly Brook, Mickey Rourke and Kelly Osbourne owning one, helping to make the breed enter the list of the nation’s top ten best-loved dogs for the first time.
Such trends alarm welfare experts, who fear they encourage unscrupulous breeders, who raise litters of puppies in appalling conditions.
In Britain the law says a bitch over eight years old can produce no more than one litter a year. But such laws do not apply everywhere, which has led to a black-market puppy trade with unscrupulous breeders selling fashionable puppies to dealers for a fraction of the market price.
‘Anyone can fall for a cute dog without thinking it through,’ says Clarissa Baldwin. ‘Small dogs are always popular, but we just want people to think about the dog’s needs and remember it is a dog and was given four feet for a reason.’
‘One of our staff members saw a lady in a pet shop choosing between two puppies, a husky and a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. She was making her choice by holding them up next to her in the mirror to see which dog suited her best. That’s not the way to choose a dog.’
This is happening in America as well as in Britain/Europe. This epidemic of returning pets to shelters or worse just abandoning them is happening in part due to the failing economy (worldwide), but it is happening primarily because of a lack of loyalty and responsibility (or any advance thought and planning) in our spoiled youth and also because of their self-love over love for a pet, grandparents, family, friends and often even their own offspring. It is a symptom of the self-absorbed ‘me’ generation. A pet is your responsibility, part of your family and should be something you love… not a toy or a possession that you discard! It is a frightening portrait of the inner thoughts of (primarily) the youth of today. (And I know it isn’t everyone… but it is far too many!) JOMP~
If you can adopt or foster just one more pet, you could be saving a life, while adding joy to your own!