Dr. Kwane Stewart, known as “The Street Vet,” has been a practicing vet for 22 years throughout California. Early in his career he had the difficult task of euthanizing unwanted/unclaimed cats and kittens at an overcrowded shelter. To cope mentally, he had to detach himself emotionally.
But one kitten — Sushi — stood out with her engaging personality. Dr. Stewart adopted her, and she taught him an invaluable lesson about compassion that would guide his days ahead in more ways than he could have imagined, most notably beginning in 2007 when the Great Recession hit.
Practicing high-end medicine at the time as the county veterinarian for the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency in Modesto, California, for clients who could afford the best of care, he recalls the influx of surrendered animals that arrived at his shelter because many people could no longer afford even simple medical care.
He also noticed the influx of homeless people driving to and from work, many with pets, which inspired him in 2011 to set up a table at a soup kitchen, figuring that would be the easiest way he could at least help a small group of animals. After examining and treating about 15 animals that first day, Dr. Stewart says he “was humbled by the experience, with many homeless attributing their pets for keeping them alive and giving them hope and a sense of security.” He further says, “Anyone can be steps away from homelessness, and it was a profound lesson to learn.”
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Nine years later, Dr. Stewart has made helping the homeless part of his regular routine. Traveling up and down the California coast, he carries a bag stocked with medical supplies and treats and spends his free time walking through underpasses and alleyways looking for pets and people in need, treating everything from ear infections and overgrown toenails to flea infestations and eye conditions. He pays for the basic food and veterinary costs.
While most pets he treats are dogs, he also sees cats, birds, snakes and more, with one simple mindset: He treats his homeless clients as he would any paying client — without judgment and with respect. He says his role is not to preach but to practice medicine and help animals in need.
He admits some cases are more challenging than others, such as a woman whose cat had a litter of six kittens, and she wanted to keep them all. Dr. Stewart says although it was not his place to take the kittens from her, he did his best to encourage her that finding good homes for the kittens was in their best interest. She eventually agreed, and he hopes to spay the mama cat in the future.
Since that first soup kitchen clinic, life has decidedly taken an impactful turn. To raise funds for his growing veterinary efforts, he launched a GoFundMe page and in February 2020, was named GoFundMe Hero of the Month. His social media presence skyrocketed and with it his commitment to his medical profession to give back.
He dreams of bringing more vets into the streets to help pets and says, “Anyone has the power to help — you can volunteer at a shelter, or donate money or time.” He also challenges those with the most power and impact to help, too — the larger veterinarian corporations. He says they have the resources, hospitals and structures to make a significant difference and hopes they will be inspired by his successes, lessons learned and mindset.
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