Is Program Pairing Dogs with Beggars a Good Idea?

Should panhandlers be matched with shelter dogs?A new program in San Francisco is aiming to solve the problems of excessive panhandling and abandoned pets at the same time. The organization Housing Opportunity Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE) and the city shelter Animal Care and Control have teamed up to get beggars off the street and socialize shelter dogs by employing the panhandlers to care for the pups.

The program -- called Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (WOOF) -- was born after the city noticed a 20% spike in abandoned dogs at city shelters and were told that homelessness and encounters with beggars were deemed the area's biggest inconveniences in a 2011 tourism survey.

WOOF matches individuals, called "temporary guardians" with dogs not yet suitable for adoption. These custodians are paid $50-75 a week to care for the pups -- on the condition they don't solicit money on the street. To qualify for WOOF, individuals cannot have a history of violence, must have a permanent place to live and be free of drug and alcohol addiction. However, those individuals actively in treatment are eligible. All custodians are screened for mental illness as well.

"The program was portrayed almost like we were going to drive by people on the street and hand them puppies out of a truck, but we have safeguards in place," assured Rebecca Katz, the director of Animal Care and Control. Gail Gilman, chief executive of Community Housing Partnership, added, "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 and we know that caring for animals is incredible for individuals who have been isolated and disenfranchised from society."

WOOF is beginning its first trial in August with just 10 caregivers.

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