Dr. Kwane Stewart has been named CNN’s Hero of the Year for his compassionate care for the pets of individuals facing homelessness

Calista Alma
April 11, 2024

Dr. Kwane Stewart, founder of Project Street Vet, a nonprofit offering medical care to pets of homeless individuals, was named the 2023 CNN Hero of the Year.

Chosen by online voters from this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes, Stewart expressed gratitude, stating, “I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian my whole life.” His journey began over a decade ago when he stopped to help a homeless man’s dog outside a convenience store. Touched by the man’s gratitude, Stewart embarked on a mission to assist both pets and their owners in need.

As the Hero of the Year, Stewart receives $100,000 to expand his work and is recognized as an Elevate Prize winner, earning an additional $300,000 in funding from The Elevate Prize Foundation. Alongside other CNN Heroes, Stewart is awarded $10,000 in cash and up to $50,000 in donation-matching from The Elevate Prize Foundation, along with organizational and capacity-building support.

“I just wanted my own little crusade” remarked Stewart, reflecting on his journey that led to the creation of Project Street Vet. Faced with the grim reality of increasing euthanasia rates at a county shelter during the recession, Stewart contemplated leaving the veterinary profession altogether.

The overwhelming number of unwanted pets being surrendered took a toll on his soul, pushing him to seek a new path. The pivotal moment came outside a 7-11, where Stewart encountered a homeless man and his dog, sparking a determination to make a difference on his own terms. “It was my way to heal,” Stewart explained. “Maybe some of it was guilt. Maybe some of it was I just wanted my own little crusade.”

With this resolve, Stewart initiated outreach efforts, establishing drop-in clinics to offer medical assistance to pets in need and actively seeking out unhoused individuals and their animals for support.

Witnessing the deep bond between these pet owners and their furry companions, Stewart recognized the profound connection they shared, transcending traditional notions of home.

“Their bond and relationship are on a different level,” Stewart observed. “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.”

Many pet owners were eager to share their stories about their beloved dogs and the meaningful histories they shared. With their permission, Stewart’s brother, Ian, began documenting some of these stories, aiming to raise awareness about animal welfare and homelessness.

Despite facing criticism from outsiders, Stewart witnessed remarkable acts of devotion from pet owners, including sacrificing their last meal or offering whatever little they had in gratitude for veterinary care. Encouraged by his brother, Stewart expanded his efforts, collaborating with like-minded professionals to provide street care.

One such partner was Genesis Rendon, a registered veterinary nurse who joined Stewart in 2016. Serving as a lead volunteer for Project Street Vet, Rendon accompanies Stewart on his missions, providing assistance to animals in need in homeless camps and on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

Stewart’s network of volunteers and partners has grown, enabling Project Street Vet to expand its reach to cities like Orlando and Atlanta. Despite the challenges, Stewart remains committed to his cause, providing free veterinary care to animals in need, regardless of their owners’ backgrounds or circumstances.

Their efforts have made a significant impact, providing hope and dignity to both animals and their human companions. Stewart emphasizes the remarkable dedication of the individuals he meets on the streets, describing them as some of the most remarkable pet parents he has encountered.

For those inspired to support Stewart and his fellow CNN Heroes’ causes, donations are welcomed to continue their vital work in animal welfare and homelessness.

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