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January 21, 2013 at 3:46 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Puppies and Panhandling: An Innovative Foster Pet Parent Program Emerging in San Francisco

By Kyle McCarthy from SLN More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Culturology Blog Series

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"The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty." - Mother Theresa

The San Francisco Treat[ment]

I try to be a sympathetic guy when it comes to the poverty-stricken. Usually, if a person clearly down on their luck asks me for a slight monetary favor, I'll hand them the change in my pocket or any singles I may happen to have in my wallet. Not everyone always gets a fair shake in life, and I try to be conscious of the many blessings I've received in mine by reserving judgment and offering what meager assistance happens to be on my person at the time. After all, what's a couple bucks in the grand scheme of things? I figure that even if the guy is using the money to go on a booze- or smack-filled bender, at least he's doing what he loves. But a strange event occurred in California a while back that has me reconsidering this practice.

After walking out of an upscale restaurant in San Francisco several years ago, a well-dressed homeless dude accosted me and asked if I could "spare a few bones." I said that I didn't have any cash (because I didn't), but that he could have the other half of the sandwich that I was unable to finish. Rather than accepting the sandwich with a polite "thanks," this guy had the nerve to ask what type of sandwich it was as I was extending the leftover box his way. A little surprised by his inquiry, I began to describe the various layers of meat, cheese, and vegetables on said sandwich, to which this guy flatly and abruptly refused my charity with a nonchalant wave of his well-manicured hand. Apparently, in San Francisco, even the bums are pretentious asses.

Thankfully, a new municipal program is attempting to direct their efforts in a more positive manner.

Problems and Solutions

Despite its reputation for being an upscale metropolitan area, San Franciscan streets have a well-established culture of panhandlers, and anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these sidewalk beggars aren't homeless. Supposedly, a large portion of the city's panhandlers are housed in supportive living complexes, and the theory is that their vagrant practices are used to supplement their minimal incomes or simply to combat boredom. I suppose living in abject poverty can be a rather lonely experience, so this hypothesis actually seems to make good sense. In fact, I'd say that face-to-face interaction is a wonderful alternative to sitting around tweeting all day, although the circumstances that lead to these interactions in the first place are obviously not ideal.

Anyway, in order to combat this issue, various municipal administrators have developed a novel approach involving the city's panhandlers and an equally troubling issue: the growing number of orphaned dogs currently residing in San Francisco's Animal Care and Control. As both of these populations continue to grow, city politicians are hoping that the two can mutually benefit from a shared relationship in which vagrant citizens are given stipends to foster abandoned canines. In this way, a friendship between man and animal can be forged, the panhandling issue can be resolved, and hundreds of dogs can potentially be saved. Said Bevan Dufty, Mayor Ed Lee's right-hand man on homelessness within the city, ""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. Why not try to meet their needs for income in a way that helps the city and its animals?"


San Francisco is known for innovative and progressive political approaches to many different issues, but this isn't just another dog and pony show for public support; this is a legitimate program put in place to make the community a safer, stronger, and friendlier place to live for both human and canine citizens. Sadly, the city's shelter is receiving 500 more dogs per year than they had been before the economic recession, as many pet parents simply can't afford their animals any longer. The mayor is touting the project as the Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (WOOF), which will initially be paid for with a 10,000 grant from Vanessa Getty, an area socialite and philanthropist. If the program grows as projected, the mayor will seek additional funds from various charitable donations.

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Here's how it works: First candidates must be screened before taking ownership in order to determine whether or not they're capable of providing quality care for their pet. The applicant must be living in supportive housing, show evidence of sound mental health without a history of violence, and, if they have problems with addiction, they must actively be seeking treatment. They also must make a commitment to cease any panhandling activity with the understanding that, if they are caught doing so, their dog will be returned to the shelter and they will be expelled from the program.

If the candidates are able to keep their end of the bargain, they will be rewarded with a weekly stipend varying between $50 and $75. Also, they'll be invited to attend weekly training sessions with an animal specialist and given all of the doggy treats, toys, and care that their new friends need and desire. The project was launched in early August with only a handful of participants, but the city hopes to expand that number based on the degree of success achieved. The idea is that, eventually, the poverty-stricken foster pet parents can be trained and employed as groomers or dog walkers.

Maybe then my homeless friend can treat himself to whatever variety of sandwich he chooses!


Knight, Heather. "SF Tries to Curb Panhandling with Puppies, Stipends." San Francisco Chronicle. 13 Jun. 2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

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1 Comment

  • I'd like to see how this panned out. For a state that is broke it seems like another program that will meet failure like the rest.

    Why do they get money for this though? You can't trust panhandlers in CA with money. I don't see why the state can't just cut a deal with the pets stores to run a credit for each program member for the same amount then charge it back to the state for reimbursement. There is no possibility of this money going to drugs if you set it up that way.

    I've seen (in the many years I've lived in CA) panhandlers use dogs as props to bring in more money. I actually brought a bum with a dog a bag of dog food (I thought he wouldn't take it). Turns out he did. I was shocked, impressed, but curious. We tailed him on our bikes to a petsmart where he sold the bag to someone in front of the store. My mom was pissed about the dog food being gone. The cost of a new bag came out of my allowance.

    Point is these people will panhandle and you'll never be able to stop it until people stop giving them money. What you did by offering food is the right thing to do. I'd rather buy them a hair cut and shave than support their destructive way of life. Of course I'm a bad guy who believes in state work for state welfare.

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