Meet the Street Vets Interview Series: Dr. Kwane Stewart
It’s been just over a year since Fetch Pet Insurance became the title sponsor of Project Street Vet. The goal when we met Dr. Kwane was to raise awareness of the work he was doing and to see that work expand sustainably to serve more pets in need across the country.
Over the past 365 days, Project Street Vet has gone from a one-man operation to a multi-team, multi-city effort, reaching more than 1,000 pets in San Diego, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando and Santa Cruz.
Dr. Kwane Stewart has inspired countless people through his words and actions, as evidenced by his robust community of followers on social media, this year’s nomination as a CNN Hero and the growing team of Street Vet volunteers joining the organization.
In the following series “Meet the Street Vets” we will sit down with the volunteer veterinary leads taking on the role of Street Vet in their communities and learn more about them. To get started our first interview is with Dr. Kwane himself just after the launch of his first book, “What it Takes to Save a Life.”
Street Vet Stats:
- Name: Dr. Kwane Stewart
- Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
- City/Cities you serve as a Street Vet: San Diego and Los Angeles
Hilary Palotay: Hi Dr. Kwane, thank you for all you are doing through Project Street Vet and for taking the time to sit down with me today, I’ll jump right in. It seems pretty clear you are passionate about helping animals. When did you know you wanted to be a veterinary professional?
Kwane Stewart: Ah, you know that probably started when I was young, maybe seven years old. Some people say they have this lightning rod moment, where they know - it's like this shining light bulb goes off, ‘this is what I'm gonna do’. For me, it was when I saw the movie, The Black Stallion. I walked out and I told my mom, when I grow up I want to be an animal doctor. From that moment forward she said I took a heavy interest in science and animals, I’d mock examine our dogs all the time and probably annoy them to no end, but for me that’s where it all began.
Hilary Palotay: Well, I'm so glad you went to see that movie. Can you tell me what your favorite part of being a veterinarian is?
Kwane Stewart: You go to school and you train for so long to have what I consider as an ability, or even more, like a power to heal pets, right? And to be able to take an animal that is in a state of suffering, and to be able to heal that animal. It's in those moments I've experienced over the past 25 years that you know why you got into the business.
Hilary Palotay: And as the founder of Project Street Vet, what is your dream for this organization? Where do you want to see it go?
Kwane Stewart: Well I get to dream now but I'll tell you Hilary, I didn't dream before, because I was just a one-man band, it was just me. I was out in the streets by myself for about eight years. I never expected this to grow into what it is today and to have Fetch join me and really expand this, we have street vet teams on the other side of the country, on the other coast. And if I can dream big and I know this is a huge dream, but I would love to see street vet teams in every major urban city in the country so that the unhoused, lower income folks have access to care for their precious pets.
Hilary Palotay: What is the best way for people to support the work of Project Street Vet?
Kwane Stewart: There are many ways. I'm not a big social media person. I tell everybody that, I give credit to my brother, he's given the street vet accounts a personality on social media and we love the messages of support we receive. I do read them and they're motivating. So check out our stories, follow us, say hi… and of course, you know, this work runs on donations. The work I do, we do, the veterinarians, we all volunteer, but to get our clients into a hospital for care for a tumor removal, to repair a fracture, those costs climb and it really comes down to financial support.
Hilary Palotay: And where's the best place that somebody can make a gift to donate?
Kwane Stewart: Go to projectstreetvet.org and it's all there. You can go to our Instagram link and follow that as well.
Hilary Palotay: Wonderful, and any words that you live by or quotes that inspire you?
Kwane Stewart: Yeah, many, I like the saying, “nobody will ever touch you so lightly, they won't leave a trace”. What I've realized is that I may just have very brief moments with these folks but, I feel like I've touched them in a very Important, impactful way and I know they've done the same to me. There is this really neat connection that's formed through their pet in the moments that we share and I've taken those traces now and they have formed a lifetime of memories for me.
And then the other is really our mantra that we've developed over time. “No judgment. Just Help.” We go out and it's non-judgmental care that we deliver to these people. I'm not there to question why they're there, how they got there, why they have a pet. I see a pet that needs help, needs medical assistance and we give it.
Hilary Palotay: I have been lucky enough to work with you all for just over a year and I've seen what an inspiration you are to others, your story of kindness is so powerful. I know that you have a book coming out this year, what is it about?
Kwane Stewart: The book is called What It Takes to Save a Life. In simple terms it's about my journey and a lot about my life, a lot more about my life that I thought I'd ever share and then the stories that I've captured on the streets from meeting people. It's a little bit like an urban version of James Harriet. You know, he walked the countryside, I'm walking the streets and the alleys and I'm meeting people and their pets. There's just so much I’ve learned in doing this work over the past 12 years. It's changed me. In a good way and I wanted to share those stories. I thought it was important, and the title has a dual meaning. Obviously. I'm out delivering medical assistance in care to these animals in some cases, life-saving care.
But the work also saved me. I was at a point before I started doing this work where I was going to quit the profession. I was working at an animal shelter and I was struggling with some depression and thought I just needed to go do something else. I stumbled upon this gentleman outside of 7-Eleven with a dog in need and it was a spontaneous act of generosity and kindness that I delivered. And that was 12 years ago and I haven't stopped doing it since and it's kept me in this business.
Hilary Palotay: The book has many lessons for people. What's one thing that you would absolutely hope that readers took away from it?
Kwane Stewart: I want them to understand that the people that I meet, and we've all seen these people there, they're almost invisible in some ways to us, but they're also human beings. They are no different than us. They may be at a low point in their life and we've all been there. I was there. I was fortunate that I had support from others around me, family and resources. A lot of these people don't have that and you wonder why they have trouble digging themselves out and sometimes they just don't have a loving mother or father or sibling and so I would like people to take that away - to understand that,these are our countrymen and women. These are Americans who are just having a difficult time. And their pet is their anchor to hope and staying with it and to keep grinding and getting up in the morning. Their pet, I have found, is their lifeline and those are simply the stories that I ended up sharing. It's about them, and it's about me.
Hilary Palotay: Is there anything else that you'd like to share?
Kwane Stewart: What I've learned aside from not judging, because I had some of my own prejudgments before I started doing the work admittedly, I think a lot of us do, what I've really learned is that there's this intangible force called kindness and a lot of times it's free to give. Kindness can change someone's day but it can also change someone's life.
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