Puppies for Panhandlers

June 22nd, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

A new plan dispenses stipends to take strays and panhandlers off San Francisco streets. Will it work?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

According to a San Francisco Chronicle story, two of residents’ biggest complaints are panhandlers and stray dogs. City Hall has a new plan to get them both off the street, by paying panhandlers to adopt animals and become professional “pet guardians” for a weekly stipend of $50- to $75. In exchange, panhandlers would pack up their cardboard signs and stop begging on the streets.

The program, called Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (WOOF) might “prompt eye-rolls at first,” the city’s homelessness czar Bevan Dufty told the paper, but as he claims, “It’s a win-win for the panhandlers and the puppies.”

There are some stipulations on the new program. Panhandlers will be screened to ensure they’re not homeless (city officials say most panhandlers live in government-funded housing but make money on the streets). They’ll also have to show that they’re mentally stable and don’t have a history of violence. They’ll receive training sessions and the city will give them dog food, toys, leashes and vet care. And city officials hope that WOOF will even save some canine lives. Dogs will be chosen from those that are least likely to be adopted as a result of being unsocialized – in fact, about 15 percent of dogs are deemed not adoptable because they’re not socialized, and most of them are eventually euthanized.

Rebecca Katz, director of Animal Care and Control, told the Chronicle that the program will help the city's shelter cope with the additional 500 dogs per year it has received since the recession struck because owners can no longer afford their pets.
And while city officials are acknowledging that the program might appear to be a bleeding-heart liberal approach to panhandling and puppy abandonment, Maria L. Ganga at The Los Angeles Times notes that a quarter of visitors polled said their biggest complaint about the city wasn’t related to traffic or the weather but rather “encountering the homeless people and panhandlers.”

Will it work? And could it be a model for other cities with similar problems? Sound off.