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Feed the hungry … dogs

Mention the idea of food stamps for dogs and you’re likely to get one of two reactions:

Those touchy-feely animal lovers (such as me) will say it’s a great idea that could help keep dogs from being surrendered to shelters, abandoned, or worse, by owners who can’t afford to feed them anymore.

Those “It’s-just-a-dog” types will say its ludicrous, that they’d hate to see their tax dollars used for something like that, and that, if you can’t afford a dog, don’t get one in the first place.

When the idea does float to the surface, there’s usually some quick debate — then it vanishes as quickly as a bowl of kibble.

Now, in a way, the concept is back, and it’s being carried out on a national scale — with no involvement from government, and no use of tax dollars, it should be noted. It’s the mission of a nonprofit organization formed by a New York man who describes himself as a stockbroker, journalist, entrepreneur and business consultant — a frightful combination if ever there was one.

The organization is called Pet Food Stamps, though no stamps actually appear to be involved. Instead, low income individuals can submit applications, which, if approved, lead to six months worth of deliveries of dog food from Pet Flow, an online pet food store. It’s all to be funded through private donations, founder Marc Okon says.

Pet Food Stamps and Pet Flow announced their “exclusive partnership” in February:

“Pet Food Stamps aims to provide pet food for pets of families receiving public assistance and for food stamp recipients who otherwise could not afford to feed their pets. Based in New York City, the program is open to anyone in the United States. More than 80,000 pets have already been registered …”

Okon, 36, said the idea was inspired in part by a friend going through some economic hard times who told him “she sometimes fed her cat before herself,” Wall Street Journal columnist Al Lewis reported. Also, he says, doing something philanthropic helps remove the bad taste that remains from some of his previous employment experiences in corporate America.

Okon says he briefly worked for a firm that sold dubious medical benefits to seniors in the South. “Their whole corporate philosophy was to manipulate seniors who didn’t have any type of insurance,” he said. “I could only do that for about a week and half,” Okon said. The article calls him “a man so disgusted with the lack of ethics he witnessed in private enterprise that he founded a nonprofit to hand out dog food.”

While many a humane society operates similar programs on the local level, Pet Food Stamps says it has been swamped with applications — 45,000 in the first two weeks alone, according to a press release.

Okon says the applicants often describe how they’ve lost their jobs and homes.

“Millions of pets are surrendered to shelters each year and euthanized because their owners can’t afford to feed them,” he said.

Okon says he isn’t against the idea of the government providing food stamps for dogs, but that it’s not part of the current picture.

“We’re not looking for government funding at this point,” Okon told ABCNews.com. “Should the government be willing to provide assistance further down the line, we will look into it.”

It seems a noble idea, and we hope it’s nobly carried out — with enough transparency that dog lovers who make donations know exactly how much money the organization is receiving, how much of that is going to buy and ship dog food, and what profits, if any, the private dog food company is making.

We’d point out, too, that people unable to afford to feed their pets can check with their local humane society or SPCA to see what programs might be available in their area. Some food banks distribute dog food and cat food, and some chapters of Meals on Wheels deliver pet food, too.  In 2006, Meals on Wheels started the We All Love Our Pets (WALOP) initiative after finding some of their clients were sharing their meals with their pets because they couldn’t afford pet food.

For a state by state list of programs offering free and discounted services — from food to veterinary care — check out this Humane Society of the United States link.


Comment from Marc Okon
Time May 6, 2013 at 11:10 am

What a beautiful article! Thank you. It is a frightful combination…And yes, there will be full transparency.

Comment from Kirby the Dorkie
Time May 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

LOL I posted about this same thing today but yours is so much better! Great post!

Comment from vida
Time May 7, 2013 at 4:52 pm

This is great! So many people are on the edge or over it at this point. And the people who say things like ‘just a dog’ seem prone to also finding any human not exactly their religion, race, ethnicity or class to be beneath helping. At least from my experience.

Comment from itsascam
Time August 5, 2013 at 9:28 pm

You need to update your story on Pet Food Stamps. Only 2 people i think have received a little food, no one else. Start with their FB page. And they have everyone’s personal drivers license, food stamp, disability, and other important information, yet don’t answer emails, phone calls and people now reporting them to the NY Attorney Generals Office, which are investigating them already. How sad to take advantage of people, and not even let them know where their information is, or how to delete it from the online site. Sad. Nice how they want more people to send information, yet send nothing and your blog helped.

Comment from JAMIE
Time November 22, 2013 at 12:05 am

This is a wonderful thing…but I would rather see free spay and neuter in every city. Also a feral cat spay and neuter program in every city.

Comment from Glorybug
Time February 8, 2014 at 5:12 am

Perhaps you could do a follow-up on this story? Since you wrote this, only a handful of people have received any pet food.

It would be nice to know what has been done with all the money that was raised by the massive amounts of publicity this organization received last year. It doesn’t appear that the money has been used to feed animals.

Comment from Marc Okon
Time March 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm

We are deluged by scammers calling us a scam I guarantee 100% the AG will find zero issues. If you want, contact me for a follow up. Thank You… marc.okon@gmail.com