A new food pantry will launch on Skid Row on Monday, but this one is different — this one is dedicated exclusively to providing free food for the dogs and cats of unhoused pet owners.
It’s the brainchild of Dr. Kwane Stewart, a veterinarian who over some 12 years of providing free medical services to the animals of the unhoused on Skid Row and throughout California has become known as “The Street Vet.”
For that work, Stewart is a Top 10 finalist for the 2023 CNN Hero of the Year Award, to be announced Dec. 10.
Located at the Skid Row Community Refresh Spot at 544 Towne Ave., “The Dog Food Pantry” will enable pet owners who are unhoused or struggling financially to take the food they need for their animal companions — providing “adequate, consistent nutrition” for pets’ total health, according to Stewart.
While it’s officially called The Dog Food Pantry, it will also provide food to help feed the cats of Skid Row.
“The Dog Food Pantry was designed out of the simple, years-long observation that unhoused pets needed to eat better and more consistently,” said the 53-year-old Stewart, who is based in San Diego but has provided free veterinary services throughout California — and is planning an expansion next month into New York City.
“I’ve provided free medical services for so long but had neglected the fact that nutrition is key to total health,” he told City News Service. “Richard, once an unhoused veteran that I’ve formed a friendship with, helped me build out the first pantry in my garage.”
According to Stewart, while there are services that will come through Skid Row with pet food, it’s usually on a haphazard schedule — and meanwhile, “in between, the dogs are eating their owners’ food or scrounging from the streets. Consistency is key .”
Since January 2022, Stewart’s nonprofit, Project Street Vet, has been helped by Fetch Pet Insurance through a program called “101 Donations.” Through the end of this year, Fetch Pet will match every donation up to $101,000 to help fund Project Street Vet endeavors.
“The 101 Donations Campaign has been a monumental success,” said Stewart. “Our growth the past two years because of this effort has exploded. With the additional resources we’ve been able to nearly triple the pets we’ve cared for. Since myself and all of my talented veterinarians and nurses in other cities volunteer their time , we can stretch a dollar.”
Stewart’s mission to help the pets of those in need began in 2011, as the US was still emerging from the great recession of 2008-2009.
He’d been the County Veterinarian in Stanislaus County in northern California and was seeing more and more surrendered pets filling his overcrowded shelter. Many needed to be euthanized — anathema to why he became a vet.
“I’m seeing hordes of unwanted pets dropped off, people who don’t have the money to feed them or care for them medically,” Stewart said. “It started to steal a part of my soul. I thought about leaving the veterinary profession altogether.”
From those feelings, Project Street Vet was born.
While the new Los Angeles Dog Food Pantry is Stewart’s latest reachout to help the animal companions of those in need, it’s hardly his first effort in the Southland.
Last December, he teamed with the HolistaPet company for one of his Skid Row pet clinics. It drew the attention of numerous local media outlets, and eventually, he appeared on the “Today” show and got a nomination for the CNN 2023 Hero of the Year award.
Stewart even got a call from a Hollywood producer looking to make a movie about “The Street Vet’s” life.
“The CNN (Hero) nomination, followed by the ‘Top 10 Hero’ announcement a few weeks ago has been the single most significant benefit to my mission since starting this work 12 years ago,” Stewart said. “The visibility and warm outpouring of support has been amazing. I can’t even imagine if I win the top award. It’s been some ride and a career honor to serve these pets and their special owners.”
Those looking to contribute to Project Street Vet through the Fetch Pet 101 Donations effort can do so online.