Can food stamps keep dogs and cats out of shelters and cut the euthanasia rate? That’s one of the questions being asked as a result of a Mississippi man’s Care2 petition for the option to use food stamps for pet food. To date, more than 168,000 people have signed this petition.
The Food Stamp Act of 1964 created the program that’s become a virtual lifeline for the un- and underemployed, children and seniors. Now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), it helps more than 40 million low-income Americans avoid starvation each year.
Recognizing that pets add value and purpose to human lives, and that people’s economic status can change in a heartbeat through no fault of their own, the petition—which was started by Edward B. Johnston Jr.—asks the Department of Agriculture to include pet food on its list of eligible items.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “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 line.” The baseline cost for feeding a dog is $235 a year, an amount that can be beyond the reach of those struggling financially.
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In order for this petition to be successful, Congress would need to change the definition of “food,” which now specifies that it be intended for human consumption. Given Washington’s ideological gridlock, it’s hard to be optimistic about a positive outcome on this issue. Yet, the reasons behind it are thought-provoking, and worthy of consideration. Better nutrition has a social value, as does animal companionship. It’s hard to see a downside to promoting both.
As Johnson says in his petition, “Being poor is hard enough, without being expected to give up your companion.”