Dr. Kwane Stuart grew up in New Mexico and spent his childhood trying to rescue stray animals amid dreams of beaches.
His dream brought him to California where he practised veterinary medicine and ran an animal hospital before becoming the county veterinarian in Modesto, Calif..
When the Great Recession hit the U.S. in 2007, Stewart realized that he needed to do a lot more.
Volunteering at a soup kitchen inspired the thought of providing free healthcare to the pets of homeless people.
“About 25 per cent of our homeless own a pet, and if I set up at a soup kitchen I could help a small group of animals at least. I began by inviting anyone holding their pet that I’d take a look and vaccinate or treat their pet if I could.”
On that first day, he treated fifteen pets. Seeing he could fill their needs, he took a bag of supplies, and started a regular habit of walking around underpasses and other places where homeless gather, checking if anyone needed help with their animals.
The 49 year-old Stewart keeps a bag stocked with medical supplies in his car at all times.
If he sees a homeless person with a pet while driving, he has a variety of medicines and treatments to hand.
In the past decade, he treated over 400 animals with allergies, skin and ear infections, flea infestations, bad teeth, and even arthritis, on the spot, often paying out of his own pocket.
For more serious surgeries in a veterinary hospital, he raises money from Gofundme/TheStreetVet.
He is grateful for reduced-price care at Beverly Oaks Animal Hospital, and Dr. Laurie Leach, a veterinarian, has performed some surgeries pro bono.
“I was guilty of judging homeless people before doing this work. But I realized that something as simple as losing your job can lead to bad credit, and then it can be difficult to get an apartment.
You would be amazed at how these negative moments can snowball. I’ve looked at them and thought, ‘I could be you. I could end up where you are.”
Almost everything he believed about homelessness wasn’t true.
Pets provide homeless people with a sense of protection and security, and offer hope to their companions; a reason not to give in to despair or fall deeper into drug or alcohol addiction.
These animals offer more than companionship to people having to surrender them; they give them love, hope, and security.
While some 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.”
Stewart challenges preconceived notions of homeless people through a TV series, The Street Vet, a “passion project” he created with his brother.
It charts the humanitarian exploits of Dr. Stewart, and assistant Genesis to provide basic care and life saving aid to society’s most vulnerable, through stories of hope, struggle and inspiration.
I hope this inspires readers to remember that seniors cannot keep their pets when they move to many apartments and homes.
Homeless may prefer the freedom of their lifestyle.
Reach Gene Monin at [email protected]