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?


Some large fraction of dogs that go to pounds/shelters do not get "reallocated" to wealthier owners. They get euthanized.
So the "delay of reallocation" theory is nonsense.

If we assume most receipient households are not susbsistence farmers, then pet food is all but fungible with human food since both have to be bought. It does indeed amount to a cash transfer, at least until the household need for pet food is saturated.

Cant pet owners just feed their pets scraps from the table? The point being that not all pet food *has* to be bought, it can be food that would otherwise be wasted.

You would have to successfully train the owners as to which food from the table is good for the pet and which foods have harmful aspects that outweigh the positive factors of the caloric and protein and other inputs the table scraps provide (the negative factors can be huge and include shortened lifespans, increased veterinary costs, painful liver and kidney diseases, and near term digestive discomfort with its attendant off the ledger costs). As any one reading this blog likely knows, complicated training goals are not, in our pre-AI world, often achieved.

If the community of owners of starving pets was willing to acquire pets while unable to provide for them, why shouldn't we expect that an increase in food will simply result in an equal increase in the number of pets and an identical number of pets starving?

Why should they be smarter than Western governments and NGOs are when discussing Africa?

All else equal, it:

1) Increases the number of pets owned by qualifying poor households
2) Is a fungible benefit transfer to qualifying households

i.e. Some households who get this may keep pets they might otherwise have disposed of (or add new/extra pets). Some households would have had the same # of pets regardless, so this free food allows them to spend the resources they would have spent on pet food on other things.

And, the suggestion that, failing this program, most of the marginal dogs would have been "reallocated" to wealthier households is a bit silly. For the most part, households obtain the number of pets they want, without much regard for whether some household in a different community needs to get rid of a pet. Yes, some get pets through shelters, but I suspect the marginal adoption rate through shelters is well below the # of pets shelters take in. An increase in shelter take-in is unlikely to substantially increase demand to adopt pets from shelters - rather, the excess pets will mostly be euthanized.

Euthanized pets are currently being made the basic ingredient of commercial pet foods.

It truly is a dog eat dog world out there.

Oh nonsense, all pet food has to meet human food safety standards and it is not legal to serve cats and dogs as food in the US, let alone any of the less common pets.

That's what they want you to think.

He didn't say commercial pet food in the US. It could be commercial pet foods shipped internationally (or he could've made the whole thing up)

I guess you don't read the ingredients?

Note that from the picture, they are giving away premium pet food brands such as Professional+ and IAMS. Those cost considerably more than the brands a typical lower-income (or even middle class) person would give to their pet (such as Pedigree or Alpo).

Another issue: Are people more likely to donate (along both the intensive and extensive margins) if they think they'll be helping pets as opposed to people? I have no evidence for this, but my guess would be: Yes.

All signs point to yes. Pets are more sympathetic because they have less control over their lives and are expected to live their lives dependent on someone else's largesse. The same effect predominates with charity to children versus adults. But at the same time, lots of people assume that local charity is far more valuable, even when they live in an area where even poor people have better access to necessities than many people abroad.

The quoted Mr. Berg is getting haughty and self-righteous that people should donate food to humans before food to pets. But his example is food pantries, i.e. to hungry humans in the local community. That's a very fundamental disconnect from the true need, since almost all people in America have better access to better food than many people in other countries.

So if some people are "wrong" to preference needy pets over needy humans, then he's at least as "wrong" to preference needy local humans or needy foreign humans. But it might be the case that Americans would most prefer to donate to American puppies and least prefer to donate to foreign adult humans.

File this story under: First World Problems

A regular occurrence where I live, New Hampshire, is news reports of arrest of people for animal abuse which is overwhelmingly someone falling on hard times and not being able to care and feed their animals, or someone becoming known for taking in abandoned animals becoming overwhelmed by the cost and work required for a huge increase in homeless animals in the area.

The animal care charities get a surge of financial and labor support and emphasize the rehabilitation of the starving and thus ill animals, while down playing the triad and killing they must do. The people who sheltered animals beyond their capacity did not reach out to these agencies because they do not believe in killing the excess. Most of those charged with animal abuse have worked in or with animal shelters.

I would argue that animal food pantries are intended to cut the costs to the public of abandoned/homeless animals. Less spent by police, prosecutors, judges, jailers, animal control, animal welfare charities, and supporters of charities and tax payers.

I would characterize these people charged with crimes as driven by conservative and libertarian values, taking personal individual responsibility, as individualists, not socialists.

When justice is harsh in these cases, its driven by the neighbors and town officials dealing with complaints by neighbors. The animosity is from the conflict between the individualists and the collectivists dictating what is done on private property.

'the transfers postpone a needed and beneficial reallocation of the dogs to wealthier owners'

You cannot make this sort of writing up as satire.

Which is a truly depressing truth - but that is a crown jewel of the GMU econ dept on public display in its full glory.

Though one is prompted to ask - if we end up with those nicer American favelas as posited in Average Is Over, would pet owners have to hand over their pets to more deserving owners, as measured by wealth, before moving in?

And once again, you narrowly avoid adding any value to the coversation.

a thought experiment:

Imagine that you start reading a new blog by [blog author]. You don't know a whole lot about [blog author], but you've never read anything negative about him, and you know he has a mostly positive reputation in academia. So you assume he's a decent guy.

In the comments section, you notice a comment by [commenter] that attacks [blog author], claiming that he is [corrupt, rude, bigoted, stupid, etc]. Upon reading this, you think, "OK, maybe [blog author] isn't as great a guy as I thought."

As you continue reading the blog, you find that [commenter] posts this same attack, with little variation, on nearly every post by [blog author]. You form an opinion that [commenter] is bitter, paranoid, and unreasonable, and you begin to think that maybe all of [blog author]'s detractors share the same traits. Thus, despite his intention, [commenter] makes you feel that [blog author] is more reputable and trustworthy than you would have in the absence of [commenter]'s comments.

Reputation in academia?


Sometimes prior adds some interesting stuff, but he sure does seem to have some sort of irrational hate on for TC.

If you care deeply about animal welfare, then shouldn't you WANT the pets to be allocated to the owners most able to provide for them?

Please stop seeing animals as objects and refer to hypothesis one. Thank you.

Will they feed my pet cows and hogs?

" 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." Boo hiss. Unfair to Becker. Is this supposed to reflect New Home Economics? A Theory of the Allocation of Time? I'd go with the latter and say that in response to the provision of pet food, the owner devotes more time to finding a higher wage job (one that exceeds the utility of current income arrangement plus value of pet food to owner.)

I don't think human pantries are competing with pet pantries. I think it's a different kind of person that donates to each one. So, to the extent that this sort of thing induces the pet-pantry kind of person to spend more marginal altruism dollars, this is a good thing. I don't think it has anything other than an emotional impact on the people who spend their altruism dollars on human beings.

"How much better is it for a dog to have a wealthier owner?"
I sometimes wonder if it really is much better at all. I know that my dog hates it when my wife and I go to work because she doesn't like being alone. I'd bet that as long as the dog is getting ample food, that in most cases they'd rather be with a homeless person 24 hours a day than a rich one that leaves them home alone

I agree with your points. Dogs value companionship more than a new expensive toy, but things like medical expenses is where the dog with a wealthy owner comes out ahead. Taken to the extreme some medical expenses are life saving. The dog without a wealthy owner will be dead.

And we think we can socialize medical care in this country...

I don't get the connection.

Pet panties? I was lost on this one. But I'm all for panties.

perhaps we can all agree that rather than increasing the tax burden on america's wealthiest, they should just be required to house and feed all these underprivileged pets. preferably it would not turn into some kind of '101 dalmatians' scenario.

shorter Tyler:


Yeah, the euth part seems to be conspicuously missing from Tyler's hypotheses. It's still pretty common, and the reality of sheltering even with a live outcome is not very pleasant for companion animals. As far as the public/private funding bit goes, in jurisdictions that charge high reclaim and even surrender fees, I guess you could claim lost revenue for the state, but that doesn't seem like a very worthy claim. I will tell you that in L.A., which mandates spay-neuter and doesn't have enough clinics to serve low-income communities, the ASPCA and other groups wind up subsidizing the state by paying reclaim fees for their lower-income clients.

Speaking as a former dog trainer here, homeless people tend to have some of the best-behaved dogs. This is largely because their dogs get to do what dogs are genetically bred to do. Live 24/7 with their owners as part of pack, exercising often, protecting their family and remaining closely bonded to their owners while experiencing novel encounters with nature, cities, other dogs, other people. Many wealthy owners outsource this constant daily contact to walkers, trainers, TV, etc. So while the dog of a wealthy owner may get better food, toys and vet care, the dog of a homeless person is more likely getting to live the actual life a dog is best suited for.

What happened to the quaint notion that euthanizing animals was more humane than letting them starve? An owner who can't afford to feed his pets probably is not going to take them to a shelter. They are going to be turned loose in the hope they will either find and kill their own food or find a pleasant human who will feed them.

Prof. Cowen wrote "... the owners may now feed the dogs more." I just can't figure out the logic behind the sentence. Couldn't that be "feed more dogs," perhaps? That would make sense to me: now the owners have more dogs to feed, and they'll end up caring less of each one of the dogs.

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