ASPCA Weighs In On The Surprising Argument for Extending Food Stamps to Pets
Edward B. Johnston Jr. would rather give his dinner to his dog than watch the dog go hungry. That is why the 59-year-old Mississippi man is petitioning the Department of Agriculture to let him use food stamps on kibble and pet treats.
Pets are part of the family, Johnston argued, and families should not have to break up when they hit what he calls a “financial rough patch.” He is asking that the federal government modify food-stamp rules to make it easier for low-income people like him to buy food for their pets.
The petition has little chance of succeeding, experts say, given the political and logistical challenges of changing food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But it has attracted the attention of nearly 80,000 signers on the popular petition site Care2, as well as a number of animal welfare organizations.
These groups say that allowing food stamps to be used for pet food could potentially keep tens of thousands of animals out of shelters and prevent low-income people from cutting their pets' meals.
“It’s potentially game-changing,” said Matt Bershadker, the president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “I think we should get behind this in a big way.”
Advocates say a food-stamp program that includes pet food would address a little-discussed gap in the social safety net: Currently, there is no federal program that helps low-income people care for their pets.
That population is a large one. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, a poll commissioned by the American Pet Products Association, an industry group, 14 percent of all pet-owning households make less than $25,000 per year -- which, for a family of four, is roughly the federal poverty limit.
These households sometimes struggle to cover their pet-related costs, advocates say. Veterinary care and vaccinations are expensive. Food for dogs and cats averages $235 per year, according to the Pet Products Association.
When families don’t have enough money to buy pet food, they frequently do what Johnston does: Share the people food. But it's not the same, and it can harm pets. And it can cut into the pet owner’s diet -- a risk, given that many public health experts say food stamp allotments are already too small to provide adequate nutrition...