Veterinarian dedicated to providing care for the pets of homeless people named “Hero of the Year”

There are many people who love their pets more than anything, but don’t have the means to give their pets everything they need. Homeless pet owner often struggle with this issue and many end up having to give up their pets.

But one vet has made it his mission to support the pets of people experiencing homelessness — and he’s been named the “Hero of the Year.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 10: CNN Hero, Dr. Kwane Stewart attends the 17th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at The American Museum of Natural History on December 10, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CNN)

Dr. Kwane Stewart has loved animals his whole life and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian since he was a boy. But later in life, he discovered that his dream job could also take a stressful toll.

In 2011, Stewart was working as a veterinarian at a shelter that was overcrowded with abandoned pets. He and his colleagues had to euthanize dozens of unwanted animals every day. But after encountering a homeless man outside a 7-11 in San Diego, he realized there was a way to make a difference.

“I felt like I couldn’t go into work,” he recalled to the Saturday Evening Post. “And I turned and saw that this homeless man had a dog. I don’t know that I had noticed the dog before, but I saw the dog that day.”

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Dr. Stewart learned that the dog had been suffering from skin problems for months. After diagnosing it as a flea condition, the vet offered to help and brought a remedy the next day. When he reencountered the homeless man a week later, the dog was in great health and the man tearfully thanked him: “Thank you for not ignoring me.”

“And that was the moment for me. I said, ‘I’m gonna get back to saving and helping animals on my terms,’” Dr. Stewart recalled of that fateful moment.

From that moment on, Stewart devoted himself to provide pet care for people experiencing homelessness.

“It was the recession. I’m seeing hordes of unwanted pets dropped off, people who don’t have the money to feed them or care for them medically. It started to steal a part of my soul,” he told CNN. “It was my way to heal. Maybe some of it was guilt. Maybe some of it was I just wanted my own little crusade.”

“It doesn’t matter what your situation is … I see a pet in need, and I see a person who cares for them dearly who just needs some help.”

Stewart began offering pro-bono veterinary services to homeless people in the area, often funding expensive procedures out of his own pocket, like tumor removal and dental treatments. However he says the most common pet needs — vaccines, flea and heartworm prevention — could be provided easily from his own little bag, saving these people of little means an expensive trip to the vet.

The vet says he has enjoyed getting to know the homeless people, who are always grateful for his help. “I can tell, when I walk away, their faith in humanity has been restored a bit,” he told the Saturday Evening Post. “They feel gratitude that someone showed up with no agenda, just wanting to help their pet, which is the most precious thing they have. And it keeps them going.”

He also said that these people suffering from homelessness, despite having little money, are some of the most selfless and loving pet owners.

“They’re with each other 24/7 hours a day. Their bond and relationship is on a different level,” Stewart told CNN. “Because they’re not in a traditional home, it doesn’t necessarily make them less of a pet parent. A pet doesn’t care about nice furniture and a big home, they want to spend it with you.”

Stewart treated over 1,000 homeless pets in the Los Angeles and San Francisco area over a 9-year period, and formalized his operation as the nonprofit Project Street Vet in 2020.

In addition to providing veterinary care, Dr. Stewart also established “The Dog Food Pantry,” a food pantry for homeless dogs and cats, in downtown Los Angeles.

“The Dog Food Pantry was conceived out the simple, years-long observation that unhoused pets needed to eat better and more consistently,” he told CBS News.

While continuing to help local homeless people and their pets in California, Project Street Vet is also starting to expand throughout the country, with other vets inspired by Dr. Stewart taking up the cause in their own cities.

After years of selflessly helping homeless people and their pets, Dr. Stewart has been recognized with a major honor: he’s been named CNN’s “Hero of the Year.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 10: CNN Hero of the Year Dr. Kwane Stewart speaks onstage during the 17th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at The American Museum of Natural History on December 10, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for CNN)

Dr. Stewart was nominated alongside 9 other inspiring do-gooders, who all received a $10,000 cash award and donation matching up to $50,000. But Dr. Stewart took the top honor after an online vote.

“I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian my whole life, since I was a child,” Stewart told CNN as he accepted the award. “I’m so lucky to be doing what I’m doing.”

Congrats to Dr. Kwane Stewart on being named CNN’s “Hero of the Year”! Well deserved after helping so many people in need get veterinary care for their beloved pets ❤️

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