LAS CRUCES, N.M. - A new program for low-income families is offering 'food stamps' for pets, but it's not a program from the federal government.
Pet Food Stamps, a non-profit organization out of New York, is offering help to anyone in the United States who can't afford to feed their pets.
Shelters across the country are hoping this will help keep animals off the streets and out of overcrowded shelters.
"In the last four years, we here at the animal services center have taken (in) over 56,000 animals. That's one-fourth of the population here in Doña Ana County we've taken in in animals," said Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock, the director of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley.
Vesco-Mock said when people can't afford to feed their pets they either let them starve or get rid of them. Many of those animals end up at shelters that are already overcrowded.
"We've killed over 32,000 of those animals because we only adopted out just over 9,000, so that tells you there's just not enough homes for all of these animals," she said.
Marc Okon created the Pet Food Stamps program to help low-income families keep their pets.
"I received a letter from a woman who is on food stamps. She lost her job recently. She's a single mother of a severely disabled young boy, and she said his only companion and his only mode of communication is with the family dog and they're thinking about getting rid of the dog because they can't afford to feed it. It's people like that that this program is aimed to help," he told ABC-7.
In the two weeks the program has been up and running, Okon has seen an amazing response.
"We're receiving several thousand applications a day, and with each application there may be two or three dogs or two or three cats, so in total we have over 40,000 cats and dogs already awaiting food," he said.
Okon said between 300 and 400 New Mexicans have applied for the program so far.
Applying for the program is simple. You just log on to the Pet Food Stamps website and fill out the information. Okon said those who qualify for government assistance probably qualify for this program.
"The love of a pet, the therapeutic ability of a pet and things like that are impossible to measure. It gives us a great feeling of pride to be able to help people like that and we're happy to do it," he said.
Okon said the program is currently running off of private donations until he can find corporate sponsorships and steady funding.
"I think this is a good thing. Everyone's coming together with resources to try to help the people, so we don't have to bring (the animals) to the shelter and we don't have to kill them," Vesco-Mock said.