Dr. Kwane Stewart has been caring for pets belonging to undomeciled people since 2011, according to Good News Network, when he saw how the recession was bringing more and more people into desperate circumstances—and their pets. He saw firsthand the number of pets being surrendered by families who could no longer afford medical care for them, at his veterinary clinic in California and local shelters. He started out by bringing veterinary supplies to a soup kitchen in Modesto, California, to help with animals owned by people coming in for other services.
Dr. Stewart was interviewed by GoFundMe, and he explained that pets were more than companionship to the people having to surrender them. They also “offered love, hope, and security.”
“About 25% of our homeless population own a pet, and I knew that if I set up a table at a soup kitchen I could help a small group of animals,” he explained. “So that’s what I did. I called over anyone who was holding their pet and told them I’d take a look and vaccinate or treat their pet if I could.”
On that first day at the soup kitchen, he treated fifteen pets. Seeing the need, he packed his bags with supplies and started making a regular habit of walking around underpasses and other encampments, checking in to see if anyone needed help with their animals. He was able to treat a number of ailments, from fleas to ingrown toenails, on the spot. But at times the need was greater. He ended up raising ten thousand dollars to help with pets that needed more serious care, including surgeries at his clinic.
“I don’t ever want to have to turn anybody away,” he says. “The look on people’s faces when they get their pets back, especially after a surgery or a life-saving procedure — those are moments I’ll remember forever.”
Dr. Stewart says that he has seen first hand how the relationship between a dog, cat, or even in one instance, a Burmese python, can be much deeper for someone struggling to put a roof over their head.
“Their relationship is on a totally different level,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times people told me their animals are their reason for getting up in the morning.”
It’s also taught him a lot of compassion.
“I was guilty of some of the judgments about homeless people before doing this work,” said Stewart. “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 these people and thought, ‘I could be you. I could end up where you are.'”
Since 2011, Stewart has helped 400 animals, and he’s hoping that he can get his story out there and encourage more veterinarians to donate their time and energy towards the cause. But if you’re not a vet, Stewart still thinks there’s plenty to be done.
“Anyone has the power to help,” he said. “You can volunteer at a rescue shelter. You can donate money or time. As that generosity spreads, it helps fuel the positive energy in the world.”