(NEW YORK) -- A new New York-based non-profit is gaining popularity with a program aimed at helping low income animal owners with the well-being of their pets.
Several years ago, a friend of Marc Okon's told him that she was having financial difficulties and was receiving food stamps. "She told me she sometimes feeds her cat before herself and goes without eating," he said in an interview with ABC/Univision. "I felt horrible, and the term 'pet food stamps' entered my mind. It stayed with me until recently when I pursued it further and was able to open up this non-profit nationally."
Okon launched Animal Food Stamps in February of this year. Since then the organization has received more than 125,000 applications covering more than 250,000 pets. The non-profit provides free pet food to owners who need a little help to get to the end of the month. All food is bought thanks to private donations and through PetFlow.com. They expect the first batch of food will be sent out to be delivered next week.
Since it was launched, the service has received so many applications that the verification process is backed up by about three weeks. Once approved, Pet Food Stamps will supply up to six months of free food. Owners will then have to re-apply to get another six months worth of food. Okon says, if needed, they could fill all of the current applications, but not all may meet the approval process requirements.
For those looking to receive dog food the process is simple. Log on to Pet Food Stamps and fill out a brief form. Soon after, a volunteer will reach out to verify the information, perform an income background check and approve or reject the petition. If people qualify for federal food stamps (and about 15 percent of the nation does) or fall below the poverty line, they will likely qualify for pet food, too.
The goal is not only to help pet owners in need, but also to lower the number of abandoned animals around the country. Although there have been numerous attempts to reduce the shelter intake number, such as low cost vet services, counseling and free spaying and neutering, this unique program is meant to fill a distinct void. According to Okon "seven million pets are surrendered to shelters each year with four million being killed due to lack of food."
The non-profit is not only working with pet owners, but also sending literature to every shelter in the country to hand out to people before they surrender their pets. "We are confident this will make a huge difference in shelter population, amount of pets put to sleep and help keep families together," Okon said.
As the non-profit grows and continues to increase its funding, Okon expects to hire more people and recruit more volunteers to help with the approval process, which would vastly increase the amount of daily pet food deliveries. They will also be airing a television commercial to raise awareness of the issue in the coming weeks.
As they say on their website, Pet Food Stamps doesn't want to see pet owners be put in between supporting their animal or paying the rent.
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