When times are tough and budgets are shrinking, everyone tends to put themselves first, right? Not for pet owners who are petitioning the government to let them use food stamps to feed their dogs and cats. What is at stake here is the question: do pets qualify as part of the family? For those signing this petition, the answer is simple: pets are part of the family, and when a family undergoes something of a financial crisis, they should not have to split up.
Hosted on the popular petition site Care2, the document has gotten 80 000 signatures to date. Experts, however, are not optimistic for its success. Changing the program which deals with food stamps – also known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – would be complicated and difficult. To do so to include pets in the food that food stamps cover would seem to be beyond the reach of the Department of Agriculture.
A 59-year-old Mississippi man by the name of Edward Johnston Jr. is one of those signed onto the petition. He stands with groups saying that if this was allowed, it would keep thousands of animals out of shelters and help low-income people to keep and take care of their pets. The president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals understands this perspective;
“‘It’s potentially game-changing,’’ said Matt Bershadker, ‘‘I think we should get behind this in a big way.’’
Taking care of a pet can be an expensive task. On top of the food and everyday costs, the prices for shots, vet treatments, and vaccinations can be astronomical. For the 14 percent of animal-owning households who make less than $25 000 a year, this is almost impossible to keep up with. If a household is below the federal poverty limit, how can it afford to take proper care of its pet? A study conducted in 2015 by the ASPCA found that 30-percent of low-income citizens would have, in fact, held onto their pet had there been an option for free or low-cost pet food.
It is also worth noting that taxpayer money is used by municipalities to round up strays and take them to shelters. Mississippi State University statistics claim that, of the 5.5 million dogs that enter shelters each year, around 776 000 are euthanized. It may be difficult to trace each case back to its root problem but there is no doubt that the lack of subsidized pet food can lead to the death of an animal. This is a key reason the ASPCA is backing such a petition.
However, the practical issues of the petition are numerous. The food stamp system has, since its inception in 1964, outlined that by “food” it means “‘‘any food or food product for human consumption.’’ To change that wording, which is what this petition is aiming to do, would require congressional action. For the moment, as the issue is in the news, efforts by the ASPCA and other emergency pet food suppliers are being expanded.