Animal rights organization PETA is fighting against the launch of San Francisco's Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (WOOF) program, which will pay previously homeless people now living in sponsored public housing to foster dogs that are at risk of being euthanized.
PETA has offered to give $10,000 to the program if they leave animals out of it.
Teresa Chagrin, PETA's animal care and control specialist, calls the program, "A lure to keep people from panhandling. Many chronic panhandlers battle with addiction issues. These animals are supposedly not adoptable. Putting these two troubled populations together is very likely to result in disaster."
Bevan Dufty, director of San Francisco's Housing Opportunities, Partnership, and Engagement (HOPE) initiative, said that while some of the housing residents do resort to panhandling, they should not be labeled as panhandlers, but as people trying to get their lives back on track, and are fully able to care for pets.
"These are individuals who have been through job readiness programs, who live in our buildings. They were individually interviewed, went through orientation, and have gotten a gold star of approval," Dufty said.
San Francisco's Animal Care & Control, HOPE's partner in launching the program, also said that PETA's claims are unfounded.
"You have this image of us pulling up in a van full of dogs handing them out to people," ACC director Rebecca Katz said. "We would not be putting animals at risk. Our job is to investigate animal abuse and neglect. We are going to have a lot more oversight during this fostering program than if they were to just adopt dogs on their own."
ACC's involvement, however, does not lessen PETA's concerns.
"I don't believe that people at Animal Care & Control have a lot of experience dealing with people with mental health and addiction issues," Chagrin said. "You can't put dogs with people who are battling their own demons."
PETA's protests have not slowed WOOF down, which begins its first trial in August with 10 individuals working in pairs with five dogs.
Both Dufty and Katz said they believe PETA's objections highlight the extreme negative prejudice faced by the homeless, making this program even more important.
"I'm pretty horrified by some of the criticism I've seen. They believe anybody who has ever been on the street has mental and addiction issues," Katz said.
Dufty echoed Katz's attitude, "In order to be effective in responding to homelessness, you can't ignore the humanity of people. Ultimately this program is about giving dogs and people a second chance, and I don't see how you can argue against that."