A new Petition works to expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits to Pets; the petition has more than 86,000 signatures and needs 90,000 for USDA presentation. The petition was started by 59-year-old Edward B. Johnston Jr. of Mississippi. "I have only been on SNAP benefits for a few months, but I have been unable to feed my little dog due to government regulations," Johnston states in his petition on Care2, a nonprofit group supporting the petition.

Expanding SNAP Benefits could keep thousands of animals out of shelters

According to a study in 2015 by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 30 percent of families who made less than $50,000 per year had to give up their pets because of the high cost of pet food.

The American Pet Products Association commissioned a poll showing that 14 percent of households who own pets make less than $25,000 a year, according to the Sacremento Bee. Providing a proper diet for pets would be difficult with that income. Care2, as well as several other animal welfare groups, are claiming that this petition could potentially keep thousands of pets out of shelters.

Advocates think families shouldn't separate due to financial issues

Johnston made several emotional comments about pets being family in his petition. "An individual or family's financial status can change at any time," he stated. Johnston continued, "Should someone be forced to give up a pet they've had for years just because they hit a financial rough patch?" Many agree with Johnston's opinion that pets are family as well; the petition has received comments from pet owners across the country showing support.

According to WKRG, a local Massachusetts woman named Wendy signed the petition and said "People's pets are family! They help to keep their owners physically and mentally healthy."

It is unlikely that the petition will pass

SNAP defines "food" as "any food or food product for human consumption," and changing the definition would require congressional action, according to the Sacremento Bee.

Craig Gunderson, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, told the Sacremento Bee that it would be tricky for the government to figure out how the benefits would be distributed. Gunderson said: "I can't imagine how the government would decide on, say, how much more money a family should get if they have a Bernese Mountain Dog," he continued, "Would this be more than for, say, a Sheltie?"