In what sounds like a win-win for both two and four-legged participants, a privately funded new program called WOOF will match up some formerly homeless people with special-needs dogs in San Francisco this summer.
Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos will pay supportive housing residents up to $300 a month to care for young shelter dogs with behavior issues. The residents will also receive training from an animal behavior specialist and free dog food, supplies, toys and veterinary care.
The goal of WOOF is to teach the people new skills while helping the dogs become ready for adoption.
Matt Traywick, a formerly homeless man, suffered from severe depression while living in a hotel in the rough Tenderloin district. Things turned around for him last year when he adopted a Dachshund-Bichon mix named Charlie from the city shelter. The two have become the “poster couple” for WOOF.
“Once I saw Charlie, I fell in love,” Traywick told KTVU. “They had just brought him in. He weighed about half of what he weighs now. This entire neighborhood has adopted him and it’s been 100-percent positive.”
Rebecca Katz, director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control, said supportive housing residents like Traywick would make ideal foster parents because they can be with the dogs all day long.
“We have rowdy, adolescent dogs that need some boundaries, taught to sit, come, not jump up on people. We have under-age puppies that can’t be made available for adoption until they’re at least eight weeks old,” she told KTVU. Her department is partnering with the city’s Housing Opportunity Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE) department to run the program.
Another of WOOF’s goals is to discourage participants from panhandling. After spending 18 years in the top position, San Francisco fell to No. 2 as a favorite tourist destination in the Condé Nast Traveler poll last year. Joe D’Alessandro, head of the San Francisco Travel Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle the drop could be attributed to the rise in homeless people and aggressive panhandlers.
If a WOOF participant is caught begging with a pooch, the dog will be returned to the shelter.
HOPE Director Bevan Dufty told the Los Angeles Times, “I can’t make panhandling go away. But I can make a better offer.”
Katz told the San Francisco Chronicle that since the recession began, the shelter has received 500 more dogs each year, turned in by owners who can no longer afford to care for them. She said about 15 percent of those dogs end up euthanized because of behavior issues such as shyness or hyperactivity.
WOOF will launch on August 1. It’s starting small, with just a few match-ups. Dufty told the San Francisco Chronicle he hopes to expand it to include many more participants along with additional training in grooming, dog walking and other skills.
To qualify for the program, participants must be living in supportive housing. A screening process will weed out anyone who has a history of violence, hoarding, severe mental illness or untreated addictions.
If, after a few weeks, any WOOF participants happen to fall in love with their foster furkids, they will have the opportunity to adopt the dogs, Katz told the San Francisco Chronicle.
She said she still carries a letter Traywick sent her last year.
“My case manager dubbed him TLC – Tenderloin Charlie – because everyone needs a little TLC now and then,” Traywick wrote to her, three months after adopting his pooch.
“If I do a decent job as a parent, he’s going to be a magnificent animal when he grows up. I can’t believe how lucky we both are.”
WOOF is scheduled to run through October. This first-of-its-kind program was created thanks to a $10,000 grant from San Francisco philanthropist Vanessa Getty. If all goes well, the city will look for additional funding to keep the program going.