What is the incidence of pet pantries?

The latest trend is social welfare programs to give free food to dogs and other pets (NYT):

The pantries have become part of a broader movement among animal welfare organizations, pet lovers and others that aims to reduce the population of animals in shelters by assisting pet owners before they resort to giving up their companions. The ASPCA has awarded $400,000 in grants since 2010 to 121 organizations nationwide to support pantries, food banks, and other programs that distribute free food for pets.

If you are wondering, this seems to involve both private and public funds, I am not sure of the ratios.  In a nutshell, here is the debate:

“I understand why this is important, but half the food pantries in New York City don’t have enough food to meet human needs,” Mr. Berg said, noting that he was a cat owner. “We should have fully stocked pantries for humans before we feed pets.”

Supporters of the pantries counter that they are, in fact, helping people by helping their pets, citing research that shows pets can help lower stress and blood pressure, improve moods, and provide emotional comfort to their owners.

I think more in terms of incidence.  Under one hypothesis, the owners will feed their pets in any case, so this is almost as good as a pure cash transfer to the owners.  Under another hypothesis, the transfers postpone a needed and beneficial reallocation of the dogs to wealthier owners.  Under yet another approach, the dogs eat more and reap most of the benefits.  Alternatively, in a Beckerian model, the owners may now feed the dogs more but take them on fewer walks, thereby capturing the value of the transfer.  Longer-run effects operate on the total quantity of dogs and their allocation across income classes.  How much better is it for a dog to have a wealthier owner?


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