If pets are so often referred to as part of the family, and families should not be separated when a financial crisis occurs, should the federal government modify the rules of food stamps to make it easier for low-income families to buy pet food for their pets? The idea has been picking up steam – to the tune of 80,000 people who have signed a petition asking the Department of Agriculture to modify the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The petition, created by Mississippi resident Edward B. Johnson, states:
“I am one of those Americans. I have only been on SNAP benefits for a few months, but I have been unable to feed my little dog due to government regulations. Some argue that people should not keep pets if they cannot afford them, but the fact is that an individual or family’s financial status can change at any time. Should someone be forced to give up a pet they’ve had for years just because they hit a financial rough patch? Or should they be able to utilize federal aid to continue feeding their pet?
Pets are also important for emotional support. Being poor is hard enough without being expected to give up your companion. For most people, pets are considered family, not property.”
According to the Washington Post, the petition has little chance of succeeding, but in the long run, could the benefits of changing the SNAP program, which only allows food for humans, keep tens of thousands of animals out of shelters and help to keep the pet starvaton problem down?
In an examination of pet-owning households, 14 percent of pet owners earn less than $25,000 a year – basing this on a family of four, is seen as the federal poverty limit. How many pets get turned into shelters because their families can’t afford the veterinary bills? Even more basic however is the cost of food for dogs and cats – estimated to be $235 per year, according to a recent poll.
When families can no longer afford to buy pet food, they commonly share their own food; not always meeting the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. When that is no longer an option, families are forced to surrender their pets – even worse are the people who abandon their pets along roadways, deserted areas or leave them behind when they are forced to move.
How about the taxpayer cost communities must absorb for dog catchers and shelters? Once the stray pets are picked up by local animal control, how many are euthanized? Statistics from the ASPCA show approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats). Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
Since the origination of the Food Stamp Act in 1964, only food for human consumption can be included, and any changes would need congressional action. What are the chances of that? And so private organizations have continued to step up to help, although there are many areas of the country where no help is available. PetSmart Charities, the ASPCA and other charitable organizations have launched programs, knowing that pets are indeed integral to families and individuals who are struggling just to feed themselves, but who love their pets dearly.
Where petition organizer, Edward Johnson, 59, lives, the nearest food bank for pets is a two-and-a-half-hour drive. The closest animal shelter is in the next county.
“Being poor is hard enough without being expected to give up your companion.”
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