San Diego (CNN) Dr. Kwane Stewart’s outreach to the streets began over a decade ago as a personal mission he kept to himself.
“It was my way of healing,” said Stewart, a veterinarian whose nonprofit organization, Street Vet Project, provides medical care to the pets of the homeless. “Maybe some of it was guilt. Maybe some of it was just wanting my own little crusade.”
Stewart had spent several years working at a county shelter in Northern California when he considered quitting in 2011. He had long dreamed of saving animals, but was instead forced to euthanize increasing numbers of those being delivered.
“It was the recession. I’m seeing hordes of unwanted pets left behind, people who don’t have money to feed them or take care of them medically,” said Stewart, 53. “It started to steal a piece of my soul. I thought about quitting the veterinary profession entirely.”
Stewart was at a crossroads, he said, desperately trying to reduce the shelter’s euthanasia rates and increase adoption rates, but also struggling with the sheer number of animals being left there. On a whim one morning, he stopped to examine a homeless dog outside a 7-11 where he drank his coffee.
“I had seen this guy before and ignored him. Unfortunately, I just walked right past him,” Stewart said. “And that day, I just broke the pattern because I noticed his dog had some kind of serious skin disease.”
Stewart diagnosed and treated the dog’s condition, and the animal was transformed. But for Stewart, the man’s gratitude was the real wake-up call: “Thank you for not ignoring me” were the words that Stewart says inspired the next chapter from him.
“That was the moment I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do more of this. I’m going back to saving animals on my terms. And I’m going to do it out of passion, not money.” ‘”
Soon after, Stewart began doing more outreach, setting up small clinics to provide medical care for pets whose owners couldn’t afford it, and walking the streets looking for homeless people whose pets needed help. It immediately struck him how much pet owners care about their beloved animals.
“They’re together 24/7. Their bond and relationship is on a different level,” Stewart said. “Because they’re not in a traditional home, it doesn’t necessarily make them any less of a pet parent. A pet doesn’t care about nice furniture and a big house, they want to spend it with you.”
And she found that many pet owners wanted to share their stories about their dog and their history together.
With her consent, Stewart’s brother, Ian, eventually began documenting some of the personal stories and working to raise awareness for animal welfare and homelessness.
“They’re probably criticized more than anything, especially by people from the outside world. But I’ve seen people give up their last meal for their pet, and people who have $3 to their name, and after I’m done with treatment, they’ll try to give me those.” $3,” Stewart said.
His brother encouraged him to spread the word and join forces with others to provide street care, and more like-minded animal welfare professionals soon joined.
Genesis Rendon, a registered veterinary nurse whom Stewart calls his “right hand,” had worked in the veterinary field for nearly two decades and was doing her own street outreach when she joined him in 2016. Today, as a lead volunteer for Project Street Vet is often at Stewart’s side at homeless encampments and on Los Angeles Skid Row helping animals in need.
“Now it’s spreading across the country,” Stewart said. “I’m building a network of trusted volunteers, technicians with hospitals and clinics that we can call on. These are all people who just reached out and said, ‘I’m inspired by what you do. How do I do it?'”
Stewart says they can treat about 80% of the cases they see with a small portable kit. Treatments include antibiotics, vaccinations, and anti-inflammatories, as well as antiparasitic and flea and tick medications.
“They’re boots on the ground,” Stewart said, adding that her group will also help connect animals in need with clinic services. “And whenever we can, we advocate for or help people spay and neuter their animals.”
Stewart’s work with Project Street Vet is entirely voluntary, and the organization has expanded to other cities, including Orlando and Atlanta.
“No matter what their situation is or what their background or past is, I see a pet in need and I see a person who cares for them and just needs help… It’s at no cost to them.” . It’s free.”
Since it began, Stewart and her teams of volunteers have treated thousands of animals while giving hope and dignity to their human parents.
“I will say this about people I’ve met who have pets on the streets,” he said. “They are some of the most remarkable pet parents I have ever met.”
Do you want to get involved? Verify the Project Street Vet website and see how to help.
To donate to Project Street Vet via GoFundMe, Click here