This Veterinarian Helps Pets of Homeless People Out of His Own Pocket

A California veterinarian makes house calls to pet owners who have no place to call home.

Dr. Kwane Stewart kneeling on one knee for a portrait.Malik Daniels/courtesy the street vet
Dr. Kwane Stewart drives around town seeking out potential patients to help.

Kwane Stewart stepped outside a Modesto, California, convenience store with his morning coffee and spotted a homeless man sitting with his back against the building. It was 2011, and the Great Recession had spilled a lot of unfortunate people onto the streets. A small dog sat in the homeless man’s lap. Stewart, a veterinarian at an animal shelter, noticed its scratched-off fur and chewed-up skin—telltale signs of an allergic reaction to fleas. He approached the man and offered to bring flea medication for the dog’s skin, a gift the man readily accepted.

“I remember returning a week and a half later, and the hair was coming back, the rash was gone,” Stewart told the Modesto Bee. The man said his dog was finally sleeping at night again because it was no longer staying up scratching and chewing. “ ‘And you know,’ he said, ‘I’m sleeping at night.’ He started to cry, and that got me choked up too,” Stewart says.

Stewart was hooked. “When you give back, there is something you get in return that feels much larger. I knew I wanted to keep doing it,” he told ­medium.com.

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Today, Stewart, 50, has his own practice in town, yet he still finds time for street pets. He’s helped roughly 400 animals since 2011, mostly dogs but also a few cats—and once a Burmese python.

RELATED: This Dog Felt It Was His Duty to Help All Who Needed It, No Matter Where He Went

There’s a dire need for his kind of help. About 25 percent of Modesto’s homeless population owns a pet, but there are few healthcare options available to them. To fill that void, Stewart can often be found wandering dark alleyways and underpasses, anywhere he thinks the homeless might be camped out. He carries his medical bag, which contains treatments—­vaccines, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, flea medications, and more—for most of the cases he encounters. Stewart pays for almost all of it out of his own pocket.

Occasionally, he comes upon a medical problem that requires more attention than he can provide on the street. For those expensive procedures, he set up a GoFundMe account to help cover treatment costs. “I don’t ever want to have to turn anybody away,” he explains.

Dr. Stewart using a stethoscope on one of his homeless client's dogcourtesy the street vet
Dr. Stewart says of his homeless clients, “I’ve gotten a lot more from them than I feel like they’ve gotten from me.”

He knows there are some people who question whether the homeless should even have pets. How can they care for them on the street? “I think that more than anybody, they need a pet, they deserve a pet,” Stewart told the Bee. “They love their pet probably more than the average person. Because, you know, the owner is the pet’s home.”

One of those people is Joe, an articulate white-haired middle-aged man who has landed on rough times. He says that his black-and-white mixed breed dog is his life.

“When I first hit the streets, I was almost to the point where I had given up,” he said in a video that Stewart posted on the GoFundMe page. “This dog was an answer to my prayers. Every morning, I wake up, her tail is wagging. She’s always giddy. I don’t feel that loneliness. If something happened to her, I don’t know what I’d do. To have somebody like Dr. Stewart come out here to take care of my dog just because it’s the right thing to do, that’s huge.” Next, read about a stray cat who brought home her own stray cat.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.