(ABC News) When man falls on hard times, what's his best friend to do?
A new donation-based program called Pet Food Stamps aims to provide food stamps for pets of low-income families and for food stamp recipients who otherwise could not afford to feed their pets, reported ABC affiliate KVIA in Las Cruces, N.M.
Based in New York, the program is open to anyone in the United States. More than 45,000 pets have already been signed up in the past two weeks, according to the program's founder and executive director Marc Okon. Once need and income is verified, the families will receive pet food each month from pet food retailer Pet Food Direct for a six-month period.
"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."
The only way to apply for the program is through an online application, but Okon said applications would be accepted through mail once the program moved to its new office.
Okon said the program's nonprofit status was still pending.
There is currently no federal pet food stamp program in place, although the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service tries to provide protection for animals in case of emergencies or natural disasters. The 1966 Animal Welfare Act also makes no mention of providing food for pets.
Okon's program isn't revolutionary. Other animal shelters and rescue leagues around the country, such as the Washington Animal Rescue League, have been providing pet food banks, in addition to discounted pet care, for years.
"One of our missions is to provide income-qualified families with discounted pet care, vaccinations, vaccine clinics, neutered clinics and vet care," said Washington Animal Rescue League spokesman Matt Williams. "We have a new medical center on site. … We also have a food bank run entirely on donations."
The new pet food stamp program comes at a when monthly food stamp assistance could be phased out. A temporary food stamp boost for low-income families was initiated in April 2009 to help offset the effects of the 2008 recession and is set to expire on Oct. 31, 2013, unless Congress passes legislation to extend the benefits.
Approximately 46.6 million people used the federal food stamp program in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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