San Francisco Panhandling Puppies Program: Dogs Give Homeless A Second Chance

San Francisco's panhandling and puppies program aims to tackle two issues plaguing the California city: homeless beggars, living hand-to-mouth, and the influx of 500 dogs brought to animal control in 2011. A new city program plans to put both to good use.

San Francisco plans to pair ex-panhandlers with puppies in a program called WOOF- Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos. In exchange for homeless folks to give up panhandling, they will receive housing and a small stipend of around $50 to $75 a week. They would also take care of puppies while doing so, giving them valuable skills.

"Ultimately we want to see people live purposeful and full lives, and this is a step in the right direction," Bevan Dufty, director of Housing Opportunities, Partnerships, and Engagement, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The plan to curb the city's aggressive panhandlers also requires potential participants to undergo a screening beforehand to prove they aren't deranged or hoarders. After that, they receive training in animal care and job skills, the puppy, dog food, leashes, access to a veterinarian, and their incentive in the form of a stipend.

"This comes out close to what they'd be bringing in panhandling," Rebecca Katz, San Francisco director of animal care and control, told The Atlantic.

The project became a possibility with a $10,000 private donation; from there, Katz and Dufty's brainstorm provided a way for the homeless to make social connections and gain job skills.

Not everyone is a fan of WOOF, however. When the idea was announced, many in the city feared for the puppies' safety, and PETA- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals- spoke out against the plan.

"PETA is willing to put up $10,000" if San Francisco can devise an alternative way to help to homeless that is "100 percent animal-free," Teresa Chagrin, a PETA representative, said in a letter to the mayor. The organization feels the city is playing "Russian roulette" with the dogs' lives.

Bevan and Dufty point to the Community Housing Partnership, which will screen applicants, and also be on-hand all the time to check on WOOF participants. Furthermore, San Franciscans polled feel that panhandling is the city's foremost problem, and that something must be done: no-panhandling zones haven't had much effect.

The pilot program will begin in August with just 10 caregivers and their puppies for two weeks to two months. If it is successful at giving the homeless a second chance, it could expand.

"We think it will be absolutely magic to give these individuals and these dogs a second chance together," Dufty told The Atlantic. "For the WOOFers it provides them a sense of purpose and dignity like no other."

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