In late June, San Francisco Animal Care & Control announced a new program to help alleviate overcrowding at the city’s animal shelter while also incentivizing residents in supportive housing to not panhandle on city streets. The program, called WOOF (Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos), will place adolescent dogs who need additional training and socialization before they can be adopted out permanently.
To be eligible for the program, the human guardians agree not to panhandle, and will be given modest weekly payments (probably around $50 – $75 per week, which is in the ballpark of what they would bring in from panhandling on the street) as well as free food, toys, and leashes. According to an article in the Atlantic, the weekly payments are possible because of a $10,000 private donations and are the approximate equivalent of what they would bring in from pandhandling. The program participants will also receive training in both animal care and job skills.
WOOF launches with a two- to eight-week trial period this month. Its champions, Rebecca Katz, the city’s director of Animal Care and Control, and Bevan Dufty, the newly-appointed director of Housing Opportunities, Partnerships and Engagement, are hopeful about its potential to have an impact on both the humans and the dogs.
As you might expect, this program is not without controversy – just look at some of the vitriolic comments left in response to the Atlantic article. My feeling is that we ought to give this approach a try. Many programs through the U.S. do something very similar with people in prison, with great success for both the dogs and the inmates.
And contrary to what many commenters have assumed, WOOF will have restrictions for pairing humans and dogs. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, no aggressive or extremely shy dogs will be eligible for the program. Nor will people who are addicted to drugs, are mentally ill, or who have a history of violence. All applications will be screened by Animal Care & Control prior to being paired with a dog.
In a perfect world, a program like this would result in happier, more well socialized dogs who have an easier time being adopted out to permanent homes, as well as fostering responsibility, job skills, and providing companionship to an under-served human population. If it’s successful, it could even be implemented somewhere else.
I understand why people feel hesitant about a program like this, but I also think that hesitation is probably rooted in bias and a fear of the unknown. Surely the first person who proposed that prison inmates socialize puppies faced similar opposition. Yet those programs have been wildly successful. I, for one, am hopeful.
Image: Mikey G Ottawa