As many unemployed Americans have found, putting food on the table without a regular paycheck can be a challenge, which is why so many of them have come to rely on food stamps.
But what about their pets? There is no federal program to help feed dogs, cats or other animals kept as household pets, but one enterprising entrepreneur has stepped in to fill the void by creating Pet Food Stamps, as The Wall Street Journal reports.
Started by Marc Okon in February, the program is available to people who are already on government assistance. Okon said he was inspired to start the program after a friend in his old New York City neighborhood fell on hard times.
"She told me she sometimes fed her cat before herself," the newspaper quotes Okon as saying.
Regardless of the reasons — job loss, home foreclosure or health problems — the need is real. Though some 47 million Americans receive food stamps, the benefit cannot be used to purchase pet food, which frequently results in pet owners having to give up their cherished animals.
As Okon told the Journal, "Millions of pets are surrendered to shelters each year and euthanized because their owners can't afford to feed them."
Okon says his small nonprofit, which employs about a dozen people, has received more applications for aid than it can readily process. As CBS News reports, the organization has received more than to 160,000 applications from needy families across the country.
The program is a lifeline for pet owners such as Marissa Jenkins. The Salem, Ore.-resident considers her 6-year-old Dachshund, Olivia, a part of the family.
"She's a kid to us," says Jenkins, a new mother whose husband lost his job in December.
Jenkins is grateful for the help she's received from Pet Food Stamps and told CBS News that once the couple is back on their feet, they will donate to the program to help other needy families feed their pets.