Your Dog Will Probably Never Get Food Stamps, but These Resources Can Help

Bella, the 1 year old golden retriever is mascot to DGallerie
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Families facing difficult times can apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But what about their pets? They need to eat too.

One man, buoyed by nearly 85,000 supporters as of this writing, has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change that.

Edward B. Johnston Jr. wrote in his petition on the website Care2 that he has received SNAP benefits for just a few months but can’t feed his dog because of SNAP 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,” Johnston wrote. “Should someone be forced give up a pet they’ve had for years just because they hit a financial rough patch?”

The restrictions on who can receive food assistance and under what circumstances is already the focus of much debate, especially in light of recent budget cuts under the Trump administration.

A representative from the USDA wrote in an email that the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines eligible food as that purchased for home consumption. A SNAP guide on the USDA website confirms that pet food is not eligible; soap, paper products and vitamins don’t make the cut, either.

But feeding pets is a struggle in many households facing financial difficulty. At the height of the recession, animal welfare organizations and veterinarians noted the impact of financial stress on pet owners, who in many cases had to give up their pets. The Humane Society of the United States even offered a Foreclosure Pets Grant Program in 2008 and 2009 to boost local programs that help keep pets in their homes.

The ASPCA estimates that 6.5 million pets enter animal shelters in the U.S. each year. A survey of 12,000 people conducted by the organization in 2015 found that 18% of respondents who surrendered a pet did so due to housing problems.

Pet Food Banks Can Aid Struggling Pet Owners

The economic stress of the recession also led to a rise in pet food bank programs, according to a 2011 report by Stacy Nowicki in the Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy.

Friends of Strays, a no-kill animal shelter in St. Petersburg, Florida, has offered a pet food pantry since 2015. Pet owners receiving food stamps, HUD assistance or Social Security benefits may visit the shelter on a designated day each month to receive food for their dogs or cats.

Shelter community relations manager Claire Wray said about 40 or 50 people line up each month to receive pet food. It’s so popular that the program is changing to allow the pantry to be open whenever the shelter is. “They’ll get a limited amount of food,” Wray said, “But they can come as often as they need, rather than waiting for one day each month.” Along with food, each person in line receives a list of other local services where they can seek help caring for their pets during difficult times.

Contributions from the community and local businesses help the shelter distribute more than 20,000 pounds of pet food each year, to individuals, and other rescue shelters and social service providers in the area.  

“Our motivation is to keep as many pets as possible in their homes rather than have them surrendered to the shelter,” Wray said.

The Humane Society of the United States and Best Friends Animal Society list resources for struggling pet owners by state, including food banks, low-cost spay and neuter programs, and temporary foster programs.

If you struggle to afford your pet’s medical care, there may be an organization that can provide a grant to cover costs. Meanwhile, if you’re facing housing instability or homelessness, some shelters may accept pets.

But this petition for pet assistance likely needs more than 85,000 signatures to catch the government’s eye.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder. She is a volunteer at Friends of Strays.