I used to pass through a large subway station in Manhattan on my commute home, and every evening on my way to the train I saw a panhandler begging in the station with a couple of kittens at his side. The kittens didn’t look healthy, and they never grew — but that was because he swapped them frequently for new kittens. I don’t know where he got his supply of kittens or what he did with the ones who grew too big for his standards. Every day I was tempted to grab the furry babies and run so I could nurse them back to health and save them from whatever fate awaited them when they grew up, but I knew he would just replace them with new, sad kittens.
This memory leapt to mind when I read SFGate‘s story about San Francisco’s plan to recruit panhandlers to foster homeless puppies. The proposed program, called “Woof,” won’t help homeless people: only those with housing may participate.
The city will pay $50 to $75 per week in exchange for fostering the puppies on the condition that participants in the program stop begging. If they are caught begging with the puppies, the dogs will return to the shelter.
The two goals of this project — to get panhandlers off the streets, the other to socialize puppies who would otherwise be euthanized — are laudable. Ideally they could brighten the lives of former panhandlers, save the lives of homeless dogs, and improve the quality of life for San Francisco’s residents by reducing the number of beggars on the streets.
But will this program achieve those goals? Several factors will determine the outcome:
- How much money do Bay Area panhandlers generally make in a week? If they make more than $50 to $75, there is no financial incentive for them to participate in the program, or to abide by the rule against begging if they do participate.
- What enforcement efforts will authorities make to ensure that foster parents don’t beg with the puppies? How high are the chances that they would get caught if they did so?
- Each puppy would be fostered for only two to six weeks. Is that enough time for someone with minimal training to socialize a puppy so problematic that he or she had been deemed unadoptable? It usually takes longer than that.
If Woof does succeed it will be a marvelous boon to panhandlers and to homeless puppies. The odds seem gainst it. What do you think?