She may be tiny, but the impact Tinkerbell has made on the life of owner Charli is anything but.

The best things come in little packages, goes the saying, and Charli Colquhoun knows that better than most.

The bundle of fluff came into Charli’s life at her lowest ebb, following the deaths of her grandma and granddad, and her previous pet dog Max.

Charli, now 36, had been diagnosed with a progressive genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos syndrome a decade previously, which had ended a promising career in the TV and film business. It left her isolated, dependent on others, reliant on crutches and a wheelchair, and feeling depressed.

The arrival of the Lhasa Apso and her subsequent training by Support Dogs to become Charli’s devoted disability assistance dog has made life worth living again, as she picks up the pieces and contemplates her future with real hope.

Ehlers Danloss syndrome causes hypermobile, painful joints, also affects the digestion and leads to dizziness and fatigue. It is a chronic, incurable condition, difficult to treat and manage.

Charli has had the condition - undiagnosed – since a young age, but she believes because she was so sporty – doing gymnastics, dancing, horse-riding and swimming as a child – her muscles and joints maintained their strength.

But at the age of 13, while running in a race at school, her hip dislocated. From that point on her stamina reduced and she tired easily, although she still wasn’t officially diagnosed for another 14 years – common in people with this rare condition.

“I  was working on a film doing night shoots and one night I just collapsed,” recalls Charli, who  started as a runner working on Nigella’s Kitchen, then became a production assistant  in the BBC’s children’s department before switching to low -budget independent films.

 “I was working 16-hour days, six days a week, and it was too much. I had vitamin D deficiency which I put down to working nights, and problems with my gut – which turned out to be Crohn’s disease. Finally the doctors put all these things together and diagnosed me with Ehlers’ Danlos.

“I had to stop working. I was really, really poorly and was on lots of different medication. I had some dark times, and felt useless that I couldn’t go out and work.

Mum Suzi adds:” Charli became very insular after her diagnosis and I was extremely worried about her. She stopped going out and lost a lot of confidence.”

When Charli heard about Support Dogs three years ago, she decided to apply. She had recently y acquired a small dog called Max as a pet who she thought would make an ideal disability assistance dog.

 “I only wanted a small dog as I live in a tiny flat in Paddington and needed the dog to pick things up for me, find things, and open doors.” says Charli. “I get very dizzy and find bending over very difficult.”

She was accepted by Support Dogs and was all set to start training, but Max developed gastroenteritis and sadly died at the age of just 22 months.

Charli was told that is she got another pup quickly they could still train it to be an assistance dog, and when Charli found Tinkerbell she knew she was exactly the right dog for her. “She stole my heart,” she says.

At just 12 weeks old Tinkerbell was accepted onto the training programme and picked everything that was required of her very quickly.

Charli and Tinkerbell qualified as a partnership just before lockdown this year.

Tinkerbell provides Charli with invaluable help around her flat. She picks up her keys, which are attached to big dog-friendly knots, finds and fetches her phone, opens and closes doors with a piece of rope, fetches the post, and goes for help if needed.

And of course, there’s that all -important companionship. “I had some really dark, hard times, of feeling useless, not being able to go out or to work, but having Tinkerbell and that extra company she provides makes everything better,” says Charli.

Her mum Suzi - with whom Charli spent lockdown, shielding because of her condition and the medication she was on - adds: “Tinkerbell has been brilliant because Charli has to take her out in her wheelchair and the dog is so cute she encourages strangers to chat and that’s boosted her confidence.

“Tinkerbell basically gives her confidence so that she doesn’t need me, and has enabled her to go into places that she wouldn’t previously have dreamed of going. She’s changed her life for the better. I’m so proud!”

Adds Charli. “Tinkerbell means the world to me. I wasn’t going out at all, but she makes it possible, and that there is less chance of something happening to me. I would only ever go out with mum or if a friend came round but now I feel I can be more confident because I have the support on Tinkerbell. She has made a massive difference to my life, and I’m enormously grateful to Support Dogs.”