They call him The Street Vet but his name is Kwane Stewart. He is originally from the New Mexico desert, where as a child he rescued stray animals and dreamed of living near the beach.
He always loved the coast so as an adult he began to practice veterinary medicine by running an animal hospital in Stanislaus County in Modesto, California. He became known as The Street Vet after the recession hit California in 2007.
He began treating animals during the financial crisis when many people lost their jobs and their homes and could not afford veterinary care. Modesto was hit very hard and there were many people who needed his help. It was reported:
“Modesto got hit especially hard, it was ground zero for California as far as job loss and home loss, and people were just dumping their pets in shelters,” Stewart told CNN.
“That was the moment for me career-wise that was enlightening. Up until then, I’d been practicing high-end medicine for clients who could pay for everything. But suddenly I was thrown into this economic war and people couldn’t even afford to help their pets.”
As the homeless population grew, Stewart was not one to sit idly by. In 2011, he and his son and girlfriend set up a table at a soup kitchen and began inviting people with pets over so that he could give their animals a checkup.
“Before I knew it, I had a whole line,” Stewart said. “There was something about it that I loved. I did it one more time before I decided to just take it to the street and walk to homeless people instead of waiting for them to walk up to me.”
Today, Stewart spends his free time driving around California to spot homeless people with animals. He stops to see if their pets are in need of medical care, which he provides for free. At the same time, he reminds the less fortunate that there are people who care about them. He always has his medical bag with him and is ready to help a homeless person with an animal.
Some of the medical conditions he treats include allergies, infections, flea infestations, dental problems, and arthritis. For animals that need vaccinations, medicine, or food, Stewart pays for the costs out of his pocket. However, he often runs into animals with severe issues that need treatment at a veterinary hospital, which he pays for out of his GoFundMe.
Stewart also works as a movie set animal expert for Netflix. His job is to ensure the safety of animals on movie and commercial sets. However, on weekends he can be found walking around areas such as Skid Row in Los Angeles and downtown San Diego in search of homeless pets and their owners who need him.
He estimates that he has treated about 400 animals over the nine years he has worked as a street vet. His stories are documented on his TV series, “Dr. Kwane: The Street Vet,” which airs internationally in over 30 countries.
According to Stewart, the most important lesson he’s learned from working as a street vet is that almost everything he thought he knew about homelessness wasn’t true.
“I had my own prejudgments, like a lot of people, about homeless people before I started doing this work,” Stewart said. “You just make assumptions about their story without even knowing anything about them. You learn very quickly that you have no idea what put them there. It could be something like job loss which leads to bad credit, so they can’t get an apartment, and these moments snowball quickly.”
He also learned the homeless are very committed to the love and care of their pets:
“These homeless people take care of their pets even better than we do,” he added. “When they own a pet, it engenders this generosity. They always make sure their pet is fed. Medically is where they need help.”
He says that during his time helping the homeless, he has seen them face down hunger, physical abuse, harassment, battery, and cruelty from the public. Living under these harsh conditions, their pets are often their only emotional support. Many of the people whose animals Stewart treats have told him their pets “are better than any form of therapy. They serve as constant protectors, companions, and many times their only source of true love.”
Stewart says, “Above all else, I’ve learned that homelessness can be solved if we really want to solve it,” Stewart said. “This is of our own creation. We’ve been putting Band-Aids on it for so long, with a free meal here and there, but there’s not really a foundation to get them off the streets and keep them off the streets.”
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