‘I go without hot food and shampoo to keep my cats fed every day is a struggle’
A man is sharing his daily struggles amid the cost of living crisis as he battles to feed himself and his pets. Colin Ortutai-Hughes, 45, from Brent, North West London, found himself homeless in April after he was kicked out of his flat by his landlord.
With nowhere else to go, he slept in his car for two-and-a-half months alongside his cats, Molly and Max, and their three newborn kittens. The divorced dad-of-four has since found a flat of his own but is struggling even more as the price of bills, rent and food rises. Colin told the Mirror: “All of a sudden everything shot up. Cat food went from £3.60 to £4.10 – we’re not talking pennies. I shop with a budget and have to recalculate what I should put back on the shelf.”
When Colin first became homeless, he turned to a food bank with the hopes of being fed a warm meal or getting vouchers for food shopping.
“They wanted to give me dried pasta and tinned food, and as much as I appreciated that, it’s no good for someone that’s homeless,” he explained.
Colin has since got a flat of his own and hasn’t revisited the food bank, but is finding it even more difficult to get through each day with the pressure of rising rent and bills.
“I don’t buy certain things I need otherwise the cats won’t get fed,” he said. “I always put them before myself because it’s not their fault.”
Colin is self-employed and suffers from osteoarthritis, meaning he struggles to work but helps out family and friends in exchange for kind donations.
Often, he’ll receive bags of cat food and says “every little helps” in feeding his beloved pets.
The 45-year-old makes sacrifices each day to ensure he can continue to have a roof over his head.
When he goes food shopping, he budgets and takes a list of necessary items – but still finds himself putting essential products back on the shelf.
Colin explained: “If I budget for the week Monday to Friday, I can allow myself two hot meals. If I need shampoo, I’ll use that last bit in the bottle until next week.”
Despite the hardship of affording two young cats, Colin couldn’t live without them.
“I can’t even think what I’d do without my cats. I need them there, it’s lonely enough as it is,” he explained. “I wouldn’t be able to cope alone.”
Sharing his advice for other people struggling to feed themselves and their pets, Colin said: “Week by week, check the prices and shop around if you can.
“You’d be surprised where you can find food cheaper – places like B&M sell cat food.
“With cat litter, I used to buy the cheap one but it’s actually more cost effective to buy the expensive one because it lasts longer.
“Tinned food is cheaper than pouches because four pouches can make up one tin.”
Colin also recommends reaching out to animal charities if you are in desperate need of help.
When he found himself homeless, his whole world came crashing down again after two-year-old Molly went missing.
“I was already having to deal with the shock of being told to move out of my home by what I now understand was an alleged rogue letting agency, so losing Molly was the final straw,” he said.
The domestic black cat was gone for five days before being found in a poor state, and Colin immediately drove her to the nearby Mayhew Animal Hospital to be checked.
After examination, animal welfare officers returned Molly to him with an emergency care package, including blankets and wet and dry food – which Colin found to be a lifesaver.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done. I didn’t have any food left for the cats,” he said.
“They came out with these massive 5kg bags of cat food, gave us blankets, lent us a box. They were so friendly.
“They found places for the kittens and said that even if I move, if I get desperate for food I can come back any time.”
The animal charity offers Individual Care Packages to owners who are struggling to keep their pets in the current cost of living crisis, providing wet or dry food, cat litter, dog poop bags, a collar or lead or puppy training pads.
Randip Thompson, Mayhew director of income and engagement, said: “Colin’s raw and honest story shines a light on the devastating impact that the cost-of-living crisis is having on many pet owners now.
“Colin will not give up on his beloved cats and is committed to ensuring they all remain together, and we were so pleased to have been able to support this outcome.
“However, there are many others who can no longer afford to keep their furry friends and who are facing a desperate choice of feeding their themselves and their families or their pets.
“This is why our work to keep animals and their pet owners together is more important than ever.