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Could Caring for Dogs Help Panhandlers Turn Things Around in San Francisco?

San Francisco's WOOF program pairs homeless dogs with borderline-homeless people.

 |  Jun 15th 2012  |   3 Contributions


In a city named after the patron saint of animals and once known as the mecca for hope-eyed flower children, San Francisco is taking a radically humane approach to its panhandling and pet overpopulation problems.

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Matt Traywick, a formerly homeless man living in housing in the Tenderloin, carries Charlie home after a walk in the city. Photo by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle.

The program has been dubbed WOOF -- Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos -- and it hopes to help eradicate panhandling by pairing formerly homeless people with troubled dogs from shelters who desperately need handling, training, and good old-fashioned affection to help them find new homes. The human participants receive a weekly $50 to $75 stipend to look after the dogs -- and to cease begging for money in the streets.

Sound a little controversial? Hold your howling and hear me out.

Beginning in August, dogs who have demonstrated themselves to be ideal candidates will be placed with formerly homeless people (folks who have housing but can't seem to break their panhandling habit) who also demonstrate the potential to benefit from the program, and who have been screened and trained in caring for dogs. They will foster the dogs until permanent homes can be found for them.

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The bichon mix named Charlie gives Traywick a sense of purpose and responsibility. Photo by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle.

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Since coming to live with Traywick, Charlie has become a much happier, healthier dog. Photo by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle.

WOOF leads us to think: We know dogs are special, and we know dogs can and do change people's lives.

When yours truly first moved to San Francisco, experienced a bad breakup, struggled to find work, and realized how how hard it can be to make new friends, it proved to be quite a challenge. Several times I wanted to pack up all my things and return to Los Angeles. I eventually found part-time work as a dog-walker, and you know what? It was those wagging tails, smiling faces, and dependency on me that helped give me the stable footing to stand on my own here in a truly remarkable city. More than that, the dogs taught me how to accept myself -- even at my worst -- and to keep trying. I'm so grateful for my four-legged clients, and I know they've benefitted from my loving-but-stern hand on their leashes. I've seen wild, jumping puppies become elegant, mature dogs, and I believe the dogs have seen me go from someone alone in a new city to a confident, happy woman.

So, who knows? San Francisco has always been known as a radical location at the vanguard of progress. This cuteness correspondent is taking an optimistic cue from the canines, hoping that WOOF gets people and dogs to help themselves by helping each other.

Via SFGate

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