On Sept. 21 at the Drs. Julien and Raye Richardson Apartments, eight proud people and four adorable little dogs proved that everyone deserves a second chance by graduating from the WOOF internship program.
WOOF, which stands for Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos, is a unique San Francisco Animal Care & Control (ACC) foster program in collaboration with the Community Housing Partnership (CHP) and the Mayor’s Office of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE) to give both shelter dogs and residents of permanent supportive housing a second chance to live fuller, happier and more healthful lives. A $10,000 grant from Vanessa Getty and countless hours from shelter staff and volunteers, Tenant Services staff and CHP case managers, and HOPE director Bevan Dufty got WOOF off the ground, and, along with the participants, not only proved critics wrong, but made the first-of-its-kind program a huge success. Despite that, the program is now out of funding and will not be able to continue
“Seven weeks changed 12 lives,” ACC director Rebecca Katz told the crowd that had gathered at the graduation.
“There seems to be more compassion for animals than people in this town,” said Dufty, “and I’m looking for a way to mix it up.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and others criticized the program, saying that giving dogs to former panhandlers was a bad idea. Dufty pointed out that with the downturn in the economy, more animals are winding up in shelters and more of them are being put down. “For a group that is supposed to be about saving and protecting animals, I think PETA is barking up the wrong tree,” Dufty said.
As the graduates sat in the front row, they held their foster dogs in their arms, stroking and kissing them and attending to their every need. The dogs responded with the kind of affection, devotion, and unconditional love that only a dog can give. Each of the graduates spoke to the audience after accepting a certificate, and all were articulate, intelligent, and grateful for a program that changed their lives profoundly.
“When I came into this I was introverted, and I saw that Shea was also scared, so I could relate to her,” said Miriam Gallus. “But when we were out for walks, people wanted to meet her, and we came out of our shells together.” Gallus has decided to adopt Shea permanently.
Each participant was given a $75-a-week stipend and Pet Food Express provided everything the dogs needed: food, crates, toys, collars and leashes, and treats. But talking to the graduates, it became obvious the money was not nearly as important as what they had learned. They said they had benefited as much as the dogs, had become more confident, more engaged in society, and less lonely.
While their foster parents are adopting two of the dogs, Shea and her sister, Sheba, the other two, Chula and Dexter, are now available for adoption at ACC. After the seven-week program — which included life lessons as well as training sessions — the dogs are also more confident, more engaged in society, and less lonely, thus increasing their chances of being adopted.
In one touching impromptu moment, graduate Jean Green sat down in a chair and sang to her foster dog Chula, a spry, sweet, calm 10-year-old Chihuahua who sat in her lap and thanked her with occasional kisses on the cheek.
There is no doubt WOOF is a win-win for both the people and the dogs, but funding has run out, and the program will not be able to continue without donations.
If you would like to make a donation to keep WOOF going, please visit the Friends of Animal Care & Control website at www.helpacc.org. You can also mail your donation to:
1200 15th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(Please note on your check that your donation is for WOOF.)
For more information about WOOF or other ways to help the animals at ACC, please call 415-946-7433 or e-mail [email protected].