San Francisco’s ‘Puppies for Panhandlers’ Program: a Good Job-Creation Model?

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a job in the makingGiving otherwise strapped panhandlers a monthly stipend for full-time guardianship of otherwise homeless puppies is San Francisco’s City Hall imaginative approach to dealing with a mosaic of challenges—economic, moral, social, psychological and ecological.

The “WOOF” program (the official acronym for what the city’s mayor’s office is calling “Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos”), with an August 2012 launch date,  is designed to satisfy human and animal needs by matching them—and matching them with cash between $50 and $75 per week, plus all the puppy supplies and services needed, including food and veterinary care,.

How’s that, as a “stimulus package”?

So, far, so good, it seems—in terms of not only helping puppies and combating homelessness and panhandling, but also as possibly constituting a job-creation model with potentially broader applications, as well as resonating with our better instincts regarding animals, other humans and the economy.

A happy model; but is it also a sound one?

Scary Images

But now your mind screeches to a halt and you screech, “But the puppies! Think about the puppies!” Doubters will undoubtedly be plagued with thoughts and images of

  • dog food being sold (or even eaten) by the new minders, instead of being fed to the intended beneficiary
  • “We’re Both Hungry—Please Help!” signs sprouting up in the streets, and exacerbating panhandling by parlaying a pooch into a pitiful famine-relief poster-pup
  • puppies being rented out to animal research facilities for experimentation sessions
  • a spike in puppy hemoglobin sales to animal blood banks
  • vodka requisitions for use with dry dog food
  • medical marijuana requests for hyperactive puppies
  • unexpectedly high numbers of program puppies that mysteriously “run away” and have to be replaced (with resumption of all caretaker benefits)
  • puppies trained to become vicious grow-op guard dogs.

Banish all (or at least most) such fears. The biped participants in the program receiving the cash stipends will also be given and required to participate in a number of training sessions provided by an animal behavior specialist at Animal Care and Control, who will regularly hold check-ups.

Puppy Safeguards

In addition, among the other stringent conditions and safeguards are the following: Every applicant must

  • Be living in supportive housing and not on the streets
  • Be a good match for the dog
  • Not be severely mentally ill
  • Not hoard
  • Not have a history of violence
  • Be seeking or in treatment for any existing addictions
  • Pledge to refrain from panhandling
  • Understand that if caught begging with the puppy, the animal will be returned to the shelter (presumably without a replacement)

One cautionary note: If the requirements and rules do not already explicitly prohibit the hemoglobin, experimental lab, alcohol requisitions, diverted dog food and attack-training scenarios and do not terminate caregivers with repeat vanishing puppy incidents, it is to be hoped that they will.

But what about this model viewed more abstractly, as a more general job creation model? Are there any features and likely lessons to be extracted from it and transferred to other job-creation domains?

Concrete Applications and Extensions of the WOOF Job-Creation Model

Analyzed at a higher level of abstraction, the WOOF program has a number of commendable and innovative job creation features:

1. It creates unconventional jobs that force or presuppose a good employee-work-life balance by connecting widely separated “dots”, e.g., ex-panhandler puppy-minders must have stable homes and have no uncontrolled addictions. Imagine creating new categories of jobs that in unexpected ways do this, rather than conventionally matching work and life, as would, for example, no-smoking clauses in employment contracts.

Application: creation of jobs that match a need for better border security with a need for affordable and comfortable housing.

The job(s): (i) security officers, (possibly trained and recruited from the ranks of those who have lost their homes to foreclosure, or in lieu of foreclosure negotiate a deal with their bank that allows them to rent out their existing home and rebuild equity in it as they relocate to the border), to be housed in inexpensive dual-purpose housing/surveillance settlements along permeable and otherwise vulnerable national borders (ii) construction, infrastructure and servicing jobs associated with the establishment of these settlements.

2. Allows employees to work primarily from home and otherwise part-time only in the wholesome outdoors (e.g., from a park, forest or beach, e.g., when exercising their assigned dog in the WOOF program—to “telecommutt”, so to speak).

Application: To promote physical activity to offset sedentary telecommuter lifestyles, companies could require employees to “workwalk” in the closest park or other natural setting, for the fresh air and exercise. Technological prerequisites for ex-office workers: hands-free and safe wireless technologies that allow transcription of speech into documents and Internet navigation.

Other possibilities include “test pilots” for home exercise equipment to be evaluated by comparison with their results when performing conventional outdoor exercise.

3.  The jobs are created to discourage employees from doing things that are worse for themselves, society, the environment and the economy, while, instead, doing things that are beneficial to all.

Application: Hiring ex-junk-food addicts to man public “nutrition kiosks” under government or corporate health-food sponsorship.

4. It unexpectedly constructively connects otherwise seemingly unrelated economic and social dots, costs and benefits (animal welfare, homelessness, unemployment, psychotherapy, housing demand, panhandling, isolation and loneliness).

Application: jobs that curb teenage pregnancy, alleviate youth unemployment and promote improved math and science skills.

For example, a school-affiliated program could be created that had a paid component, for graduation credit, in high school sex education courses that would pay senior students to mentor and tutor 11th-grade students in various aspects of sex education, as partial fulfillment of the course requirements.

Content could include reproductive physiology, elementary statistics and probability related to adolescent pregnancy and parenting, the economics and demographics of teenage pregnancy, etc. Funding could be provided by private (NGO or corporate) sponsorship, family payment and/or public subsidies.

5. The created jobs stimulate affiliated, follow-up and cross-employment as replacement employment (such as animal grooming, dog walking through training programs that allow advancement from basic puppy guardian to more conventional, full-time pet-related service occupations).

Application: Jobs created to be self-liquidating, in the sense that, the more successful the placement, the shorter it is likely to be,  or at least with the prospect that at some point the need for the job will no longer exist.

Examples of this kind of employment already exist, at least as ideals, e.g., some categories of physicians and other medical practitioners, who if, as effective and successful as imaginable, would find their services unnecessary, e.g., through strides in preventive medicine.

Relieved of the tasks of curing and treating patients, these successfully self-eliminating medicos could segue to careers in orthomolecular medicine, which focuses on nutritional prevention of illness.

A less transparent example is that of hiring ex-gang members as neighborhood “guardian angels”.

As the angel numbers increase, not only might gang membership and recruitment decrease, but neighborhood security would increase—perhaps to the point at which fewer patrols and angels are needed, allowing occupationally self-liquidating “graduation” to more sophisticated careers in broader security and surveillance fields.

(Of course, there is the potential for cyclical increases and decreases in the guardian numbers, as the vacuum created by their diminished numbers is filled by other criminal elements, thereby restarting the cycle.)

6. The job-creation program utilizes third parties who match the resources and needs of one “difficult” client with those of another, possibly equally difficult party.

The WOOF program essentially involves recruiting hard-to-place puppies and those (formerly) at risk of being otherwise virtually unemployable, especially as homeless panhandlers, with both parties being simultaneously (non)human resources and embodiments of (social welfare) needs otherwise difficult to meet.

Application: Think of two categories of (non)human resources with needs or wants that are among the most difficult to deal with, i.e., to employ and meet, respectively.

Although hiring Hannibal Lector to assist the FBI in catching other serial killers may come to mind, ideally the job category should allow for employing much greater numbers, without widespread panic and fear as a prerequisite or consequence.

One feasible and serious example is this: Alzheimer’s patients as employees of pharmaceutical companies or as subsidized residents in patient-care facilities. The idea in both cases is that in exchange for participation in experimental treatment and care programs, the patient (or his family) would receive an income, subsidy or stipend that could help defray the costs of care.

Apart from participating in therapeutic research programs, patients could participate in pilot residential programs with innovative, yet untested features, possibly with no or lower fees, rather than being paid, which, nonetheless,  in effect means additional income (through savings) for the patient’s family.

(Note: my Google search for “jobs for Alzheimer’s patients”, “subsidies for Alzheimer’s patients”, “employment for Alzheimer’s patients” and “hiring Alzheimer’s patients” all turned up zero results, suggesting that programs to financially benefit Alzheimer’s patients and their families are few, if there are any at all.)

A Valuable Job-Creation Template

Clearly, as these examples should demonstrate, the WOOF program can serve as a template for job creation in a variety of innovative and constructive ways and in domains far removed from animal shelters, panhandling and subsidized housing.

To formulate comparably innovative programs and policies, we need imagination and clear thinking—and one more thing.

Dogged determination.



Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).