An online petition is asking lawmakers to change food stamp laws so that the benefits would cover pet food.
The petition hosted on the website Care2 was created by Edward B Johnston Jr. "Don't Let Pets Starve - Include Pet Food in SNAP Benefits!" petitions the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service to make the change.
Currently, under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, households cannot use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to buy pet food, according to the USDA.
Johnston says he's been on SNAP benefits "for a few months," and is unable to feed his dog. He says he's not alone.
"Each year, over 40 million low- or no-income people in the United States rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help purchase food for themselves and their families. It is the most wide-reaching program in the domestic hunger safety net, helping keep millions of families from starving," said Johnston. "But what about their pets? Unfortunately, SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy pet food, leaving poor families with pets in a difficult position."
Many who commented on the petition said additional federal aid could help their pets stay healthy and out of shelters. They added, despite financial hardships they did not want to give up their pets because they provide emotional support.
Laurie Green, the Executive Director of Southern Alliance for People and Animal Welfare (SAFPAW), said on the surface it sounded like a good plan, but she still had some concerns.
“My concern is, when you face decisions of do I feed my dog, or do I feed myself, you will come home with a bag of dog food and nothing to feed you,” said Green.
Green said SNAP benefits are already minimal for many people, and she feared altering the program would possibly reduce the amount of aid even more.
Around 50 million people in the U.S. are currently enrolled in SNAP. Since 1964, the program has never included pet food.
The petition aimed to get the issue before the USDA. The department would have to sign off on any changes to the SNAP program, and Congressional approval would be required as well.
Green added SAFPAW offers a pet food bank to help pet owners who are struggling financially. She said local groups need to step up efforts to stock food banks to help people in need.
The Care2 petition had been signed more than 100,000 times as of Tuesday morning.
For more information on SAFPAW and services the non-profit provides, click here.