With sit-lie proving more or less ineffective at curbing the city's panhandling problem, San Francisco's Homeless Czar Bevan Dufty launched a new program that he hopes will get beggars off sidewalks and into the city's dog parks. The new program — which Dufty believes is the first of its kind in the country — is called Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (which: WOOF) and offers a $75 weekly stipend for panhandlers who foster puppies from local shelters until they are ready for adoption.
Dufty is aware of the painful eye-rolling that comes with the announcement. As he sees it, other anti-panhandling measures have taken the wrong approach. "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," the former city supervisor told the Chronicle. "Why not try to meet their needs for income in a way that helps the city and its animals?"
The "Look I've Got a Puppy!" approach has been a favorite move of those looking for a handout in the past. So, what's to keep WOOF applicants from abusing the system for free money and an adorable panhandling accessory? Animal Care and Control will screen homeless applicants. Those with a history of violence and anyone who might be a hoarder will be filtered out. Potential pet owners will also have to promise never to panhandle with the pups, and anyone caught doing so will see their new canine companion head back to the shelter.
According to the Chronicle, the city has "anecdotal evidence" that most panhandlers have housing, but beg on the streets because they don't have anything better to do with their time — something that actually makes them ideal caretakers for hyperactive or shy foster puppies who need constant attention throughout the day and are at a high risk of being put down. None of the city's supportive housing facilities currently allow pets, but a representative from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic hinted that the animals could be allowed as service dogs or companion animals.
The pilot program is funded by a $10,000 grant to Animal Care and Control from local puppy-eyed socialite Venessa Getty, which will also cover all costs for dog food, toys, leashes and vet visits for the foster owners who will have the pups under their watch for two to six weeks at a time. When it comes time to part ways, the new dog owners can either offer to adopt their pup permanently or foster a new dog from the shelter.