There animals are their reasons for getting up early in the morning.”
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.
Today, Stewart, 50, has his own practice in town, yet he still finds time for street animals. He’s helped roughly 400 animals since 2011, mostly dogs but also a few cats—and once a Burmese python.
There’s a dire need for his kind of help. About 25 percent of Modesto’s homeless population adopts a home-animal friend, 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.
He knows there are some people who question whether the homeless should even have home-animal friends. How can they care for them on the street? “I think that more than anybody, they need a home-animal friend, they deserve a home-animal friend,” Stewart told the Bee. “They love their home-animal friend probably more than the average person. Because, you know, the owner is the home-animal friend’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.”
Wise Articulation | Moral Streets
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