San Francisco tackles panhandling problem with puppies

On August 1st, the city of San Francisco will launch its latest attempt at getting beggars off the streets: pairing panhandlers with puppies.

The program, called Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (Woof), hopes to encourage panhandlers to "give up their cardboard signs and metal cups in exchange for a small stipend to foster problematic puppies at the city's Animal Care and Control, making them ready for adoption," reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

"I'm tired of pushing people around. You can make it difficult for people to panhandle, but ultimately they're just going to go do it somewhere else," said Bevan Dufty, San Francisco's director of HOPE (Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement). "Why not try to meet their needs for income in a way that helps the city and its animals?"

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Animal Care and Control will screen applicants to make sure they're a good fit for the program. They must be living in supportive housing, not on the streets — the city has data to suggest that most panhandlers have housing — and must pledge to give up panhandling while participating in Woof. They must also show they're not mentally ill, they don't have a history of violence, and are seeking treatment for any addictions.

Each participant in Woof will be paid up to $75 a week, plus all the training, tools and supplies they'll need to care for their assigned puppy.

Since the economic downtown, San Francisco has seen 500 more puppies a year turn up in its shelters. About 15 per cent of these puppies are considered not adoptable because they're not socialized. These rowdy, hyper or painfully shy pups are often euthanized.

The Woof foster guardians will hopefully help make these pups adoptable by spending all day with them. Participants will each have the option to adopt their dog at the end of two to six weeks, or they can return their dog to the shelter and foster another one.

"This has a huge potential to be a pathway for many individuals to learn some skills and supplement their income in a more positive, productive way," Gail Gilman, chief executive of Community Housing Partnership told the LA Times. "And we know that caring for animals is incredible for individuals who have been isolated and disenfranchised from society."