Food stamps for pets: are they needed?

By Valencia

NEW YORK (WCIV) - When times are tough people rely on food stamps. But what about food stamps for pets?

A New York-based nonprofit called Pet Food Stamps has come up with a supplemental nutritional assistance plan for pets.

"A few years ago, I had a female friend who was on food stamps and having great difficulty and she was telling me how there were times when she would have to forego eating in order to feed her pet," said Marc Okon, founder of Pet Food Stamps.

The organization offers pet owners on food stamps free food delivery in six-month increments.

"There is no partnership in any way shape or form with the federal government," said Okon. "This is a 100 percent private nonprofit with no affiliation with the government, but we do ask for verification that they are receiving funds from the government in order to qualify for the program."

If approved, a person would receive a one-month supply of food for the span of half a year.

The delivery does not include medications, treats or toys.

"They don't get some type of EBT debit card or anything like that, or identification cards. We call it the Pet Food Stamp program so people will understand it. But, its just shipments of actual pet food," Okon said.

The organization was founded less than three weeks ago. In that time, 100,000 pet owners have applied for the program.

Lowcountry pet advocates say the number speaks to how much of a need there is for this type of program.

"We hear all the time seniors on meals for wheels programs, when they are delivered food, they will give it to their animals because they can't afford or they're home bound," said Kevin Ryan, the executive director of Pet Helpers.

Pet Helpers has a similar program through their food pantry. Free pet food is open to any pet owner seven days a week. Last year alone, Pet Helpers donated 50,000 pounds of pet food.

"We certainly have people that we see on a monthly basis and we see a lot of people that come in on a two month or a three month period," Ryan said. "It really is a program in which I think people take advantage of it when they need it and when they don't they go back to supplying their own animal food."

Ryan says food insecurity is a growing epidemic for both people and pets. He says he fully supports the Pet Food Stamp program.

"If this is another tool in our arsenal to fight food insecurity in people and pets then I don't see how you can celebrate it as anything but a victory," he said.

For now, the Pet Food Stamp Program is run by volunteers. Okon says eventually he hopes to gain enough resources to provide a salary for certain positions.

Also, the organization hopes to start VetCaid, financial assistance for veterinary care.