San Francisco is hoping to solve two of its biggest problems — panhandling and homeless dogs — with the implementation of Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos, or WOOF. The program encourages homeless people to give up panhandling in exchange for a small stipend to foster puppies until they’re ready for adoption.
Thanks to a $10,000 private donation, WOOF provides participants with weekly payments for fostering the puppies, as well as dog food, leashes, veterinary care, and training in animal care and job skills. The amount of the payments is still being worked out, but they’ll likely be between $50 and $75 a week.
"This comes out to close to what they'd be bringing in panhandling," Rebecca Katz, the city’s director of animal care and control, told The Atlantic.
The approach, believed to be the first of its kind, was the brainchild of Katz and Bevan Dufty, the mayor’s homelessness chief. They hope the initiative will help the city, panhandlers and animals.
Last year, 500 extra dogs were brought into San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control, overwhelming the system; in March, citizens ranked panhandling as their top concern in a poll by the Chamber of Commerce.
But not everyone is supportive of WOOF. In a city where dogs outnumber children, it's not a surprise that many residents voiced concern for the puppies’ safety.
Animal rights activists are adding their voices to the mix. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has said that San Francisco is playing “Russian roulette” with dogs and has offered the city $10,000 to halt the plan.
"PETA is willing to put up $10,000" — equal to the private grant — if the city will instead institute a program for the homeless that is "100 percent animal-free," Teresa Chagrin, a representative of PETA’s cruelty investigations department, said in a letter to the mayor.
However, Dufty says the city is committed to WOOF’s two-month pilot, which is scheduled to begin in August with five dogs and 10 caregivers who have gone through screening.
"Ultimately we want to see people live purposeful and full lives, and this is a step in the right direction," Dufty told the San Francisco Chronicle.
San Francisco Animal Care and Control will screen all potential puppy foster parents to ensure they’re a good fit for the program. Participants must live in supportive housing and prove that they’re not severely mentally ill, aren’t hoarders, aren’t seeking treatment for substance addiction and don’t have a history of violence. Any participants caught panhandling will be removed from the program, and the puppy will be taken back to the animal shelter.