Many homeless people are choosing to feed their dogs rather than themselves in a bid to keep their canine companion alive


A Teesside project which supplies free dog food, care essentials and leads to the dogs of homeless people has seen an unprecedented demand with the rising cost of living.

The Roaming Free project now intends to grow nationwide as homed people too are struggling to feed their dogs.

Middlesbrough-based Andrea Burrows, 34, launched The Roaming Free project after creating a surplus food pantry model to reduce food waste and help people in need, called Ecoshops, through her social enterprise LifeThyme CIC. 

With Middlesbrough having an IMD (index of multiple deprivation score of 40.2, nearly double the England average, Andrea grew Ecoshops from one base to 24 in less than 2 years. 

Of the wards in Middlesbrough, 6 (30%) are in the top 1% most deprived wards in England. 

A further 2 (Central and Hemlington) are in the top 3% most deprived. 

8 in total are in the top 10% most deprived wards in England. 

No wards in Middlesbrough are in the top 10% least deprived wards in England. 

Of the 6 which are in the top 1% most deprived wards nationally, 4 have become more deprived since 2015.

“People kept asking if EcoShops supplied dog food which they didn’t. 

“This reminded me of outreach work I had done with people living on the streets who had been choosing to feed their dogs over themselves. 

“The food they had been given to eat was being given to their four-legged friends,” said food scientist Andrea.

These two situations combined sparked dog-lover Andrea’s idea to start a project to provide support for the dogs so that vulnerable people didn’t have to share their essential food supplies. 

“I have a diploma in Canine nutrition, I know how important a dog’s diet is too. They need a species appropriate diet.  

“We all depend on a fair and just food system. If we don’t get this right for everyone, nothing else matters,” said Andrea. 

Living in a food insecure environment has short and long term, physical and mental health consequences (Elgar et al, 2021, SocSciMed, 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113556) 

Middlesbrough has been deemed a critical case study area of food insecurity, with 8577 residents accessing food banks during the financial year 2019-2020, a 34.6% increase from the previous year, and use increased to 58% during March and April 2020 (FIG, 2020. Welfare Reform Report 4, Middlesbrough Council).

As a mum and “dog mum,” Andrea knows how important nutrition is for the whole family not to mention how dog’s are a part of the family too. 

Current statistics suggest over 300,000 people are currently classified as homeless in the UK, and between 5-25% of these people are homeless with a pet.

“Dogs are a lifeline to many, especially the most vulnerable who rely on their canine companion, I realised that if I don’t take this food to dogs this has serious consequences,” said Andrea who decided to pilot the project 6 months ago in her local area.

Andrea built The Roaming Free site to sell dog treats and supplies to then reinvest all profits back into providing vital supplies for other dog owners who couldn’t afford to buy them.

Within weeks word-of-mouth spread amongst dog-loving communities online and Andrea has been able to regularly deliver canine essentials to dogs on the street locally. 

“Every £13 profit covers the cost of a bag of dog food and care essentials. 

People can also purchase a virtual care package on the site” said Andrea who now aims to grow the project nationwide. 

Recently generous dog-lovers have funded around 60 kg of food as well as dental chews, sausage treats and care packages including a blanket, bowl and flea collar.

“We also have money to buy the dogs a coat and lead if they need one,” said Andrea who realises this issue is growing for homeless and homed people nationwide. 

“We’re a nation of dog lovers and more people bought dogs in the Pandemic too but now cannot afford them. Many people are giving up the food on their table to look after their dog and in this day and age that shouldn’t be a choice anyone has to make. 

“While I’ll be campaigning for the government to do more, for now I ask that those who can afford it, donate to our cause so that we can try our best to support those people and animals in need,” said Andrea. 

The North East had the highest suicide rate in England and Wales during 2020. 

Andrea hopes that the project will help ensure that people and their canine companions will be as healthy as possible. 

For more information, go to:

Follow: @roamingfreetreats 


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