At the young age of seven years old, Kwane Stewart wanted to be a veterinarian. As he got older and fulfilled his destiny, he was trying to find the right fit for him as a vet. He started working for hospitals within the Petco retail centers, called Vetco, where he eventually became Chief Medical Officer. However, after divorcing, Kwane took a job as a vet at a municipal shelter in a new town that allowed him to be close to his son.
The shelter in Modesto, California, was hit hard during the recession with animal overpopulation in the shelter, low adoption rates, and inadequate funding. Their euthanasia rates were high already and increased during the recession. It was emotionally wearing on Kwane, who started to really consider his career choice.
During this time, Kwane went to a 7-Eleven to get some coffee. On his way in, he saw a homeless man and his dog. Kwane recognized them, although he had not acknowledged them in the past. He noticed the dog had a skin issue and offered to help. Kwane returned later with some medicine, and the dog was as good as new in no time – making both the dog and his human counterpart very happy.
After feeling so disheartened from his work at the shelter, Kwane realized that perhaps he had another option and could find a new way to help people and their dogs. This moment was a turning point for him.
Kwane started to treat more dogs of the homeless by setting up pop-up clinics at local soup kitchens. They were always especially appreciative of his services and kindness. In doing this work, Kwane realized how many preconceived notions he had about people who live on the street before he got to know them better.
Dogs were a connecting force for Kwane to interact with the unhoused and he became more aware of the situations they face. Growing up, Kwane was a bi-racial kid with "crazy wiry hair and big buck teeth," as he describes it. He was teased and bullied, which gave him personal insight into the feeling of "otherness" and empathy for those treated as less than by society. And just like he found solace in his pets when he was young, he found so do the unhoused.
It’s so important to have that unconditional love and support that a dog can help provide. The dogs provide many unhoused people with a reason to live.
Now through his Project Street Vet nonprofit, veterinarians from around the country are joining in to support and do the same work in their own cities. While Kwane primarily works in Los Angeles in big homeless areas there like Skid Row, the nonprofit street vet teams now also cover major cities such as Atlanta, Washington DC, San Francisco, Orlando, and more. And with his new book, What It Takes to Save a Life: A Veterinarian's Quest for Healing and Hope, maybe he’ll inspire more the join the mission as well.
Listen to Kwane on the podcast Dog Save the People on your favorite app or online here.