This veterinarian from California has been providing free medical care to pets of the homeless for almost a decade, and he has no plans of stopping.
Dr. Kwane Stewart, 49, spends his free time wandering in the impoverished areas of his hometown of San Diego and Los Angeles. Sometimes, he also strolls around Sacramento and San Francisco. But wherever he goes, his mission remains the same – to provide free veterinary care to homeless people’s pets.
“I love the work,” the vet told TODAY. “I do it because it’s hugely rewarding to me, spiritually. I’m just very fortunate to be living out my dream to be a vet in the first place.”
Though he’s been doing these free check-ups and treatments for nine years, Dr. Kwane didn’t expect for it to become his life’s calling. It all began during the Great Recession of December 2007, when he was working as a county veterinarian at an “economically challenged” animal shelter in Modesto, California. During that time, he saw many pet owners unwillingly surrender their animals because they couldn’t afford their medical care.
So, one day, Dr. Kwane went into a soup kitchen with his kid and girlfriend and began asking people with pets if there was anything he could do for their companions. During the first day, he treated about 15 animals. What started as a few hours of volunteer work became part of his daily routine. With a bag full of medical supplies and treats, the vet walks through underpasses and alleyways looking for pets and people in need during his spare time.
“I knew then and there I was going to keep doing it,” he said. “There’s so much need out there.”
Sometimes, other homeless people who feel suspicious of his intentions turn down his offer. Dr. Kwane completely understands this wariness, as he has witnessed some people do horrible things to them. But when they accept his help, that’s when everything changes.
“As I examine their animal and really give focus to their animal — not them — they just begin to open up,” he said. “Some of the things these people have gone through that they’ve shared with me, it’s remarkable.”
About 98% of the animals he encounters on the streets are dogs. There are also cats, birds, and reptiles. While others say that homeless people shouldn’t own pets, Dr. Kwane believes the opposite.
“I’ve seen homeless people feed their pet before they feed themselves. I’ve seen them give their last dollar to care for their pet,” he said. “They sustain each other and that is the power of pet companionship.”
Dr. Kwane started a “passion project” with his brother, a TV show called “The Street Vet” in which he stars. The program aims to challenge society’s preconceived notions of what homeless people are like.
Some individuals tend to assume that he is rich because he has his own show and has taken over high-profile positions, such as the chief veterinary officer of the nonprofit American Humane. What most people don’t know is that he’s still paying off the student loans he incurred in veterinary school.
The most common medical issues of pets on the streets are flea infestations, ear infections and mild arthritis. Sometimes, a pet would need surgery, and Dr. Kwane used to pay for the costs out of his own pocket. Luckily, he found the Beverly Oaks Animal Hospital in Los Angeles where pets could get reduced-price care. A fellow veterinarian, Dr. Laurie Leach, even performs some surgeries for free.
Still, expenses add up, and Dr. Kwane wants to be able to accommodate anyone who asks for his help. He started a fundraiser last fall, and because of his incredible efforts towards animal care, GoFundMe named him the February GoFundMe Hero.
Dr. Kwane says that he has no plans of stopping his volunteer work anytime soon.
“One of the great things about being a vet is it’s a job I can do as long as I have physical capabilities until I’m old,” he said. “I don’t plan on stopping anytime as long as I have the strength to do it.”
Watch the video below to learn more about this hero’s story.
Support Dr. Kwane’s mission by donating to his fundraiser.