Dr. Kwane Stewart is saving the pets of Skid Row
By LA Stories Staff Los Angeles
PUBLISHED 5:00 AM PT May 08, 2023
From a young age, Dr. Kwane Stewart knew he wanted to work with animals. He got his love for them from his mother, who always encouraged him to have compassion for all creatures.
As a biracial child, Stewart said he often felt isolated, not really fitting in with any of the other kids because he looked different.
He turned to animals for comfort and companionship, and eventually, followed through on his dream and became a veterinarian.
Despite loving his work, Stewart said the emotional strain that came from doing the job — which included almost daily euthanizations — was taking a toll on his mental health.
“I had a rough history and moments where I’d considered suicide,” he said. “I just thought that I didn’t want to go forward anymore.”
On the latest episode of “LA Stories” with Giselle Fernandez, Stewart explains how helping a homeless man’s dog not only saved the dog’s life — but Stewart’s as well.
With a bag of supplies, he walks the streets, offering free care and veterinary services. By helping those who need it the most, Stewart found his purpose.
He started a foundation called Project Street Vet and made it his full-time job. He’s found that by helping the pets of those who are homeless, he’s helping the owner even more.
“I’ve realized how important that little animal is to their wellbeing and to their motivation to stay alive,” he said. “If I can help keep them together, if that’s my one part in all this, then I’m going to keep doing it.”
Today, Stewart is using his platform not only to shine a light on the needs of homeless people and their pets living on the streets, but also on the current state of mental health in veterinary care.
Emotional distress and compassion fatigue are common in veterinary medicine and with the shortage of veterinarians, heavy workloads and high stress are more frequent.
The combination makes the suicide rate among those in the industry significantly higher than the average population. He wants to do away with what he calls “economic euthanasia” — having to put down a pet because of lack of funds to properly care for it.
By making pet care more accessible and pet insurance more common, Stewart hopes for a brighter future in the industry.
“We’ve taken big steps to improving, but there’s still a million plus or minus euthanasias in this country today,” he said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.”