By Sarah Ryan
When Dr. Kwane Stewart accepted a new job in Hollywood, friends and coworkers joked he was going into show biz and, in a sense, he was. As chief veterinary officer of the American Humane Association, he will serve as the national director of the Humane Hollywood division and will oversee the No Animals Were Harmed® program, a highly specialized niche of the entertainment industry that focuses on animal welfare and protection.
The No Animals Were Harmed® program, the only officially sanctioned monitoring program in the film and TV industry, sends representatives to movie sets around the world working with animal trainers, actors, directors, and producers to ensure that animal “actors” are treated humanely throughout production. For the blockbuster movie Life of Pi, giraffes, monkeys, zebras, hyenas, elephants, and tigers were monitored and protected during numerous action scenes. In the forthcoming film, The Lone Ranger, herds of horses required supervision throughout the film.
The job is “a very different animal,” Stewart said, and it’s the latest stop on an unconventional career path that began after his graduation from Colorado State University’s DVM program in 1997. After graduation, Stewart moved to San Diego, Calif., to begin his career in small animal medicine. In 2004, he was promoted to chief medical officer for VETCO Hospitals, Inc., a nationwide network of vaccination clinics and veterinary hospitals. In that role, he honed his business and management skills and assisted in taking the company public.
Then, while visiting his son in northern California, he stopped by the Modesto County animal shelter and learned they had operated without a veterinarian for three years. Stewart knew the challenges of shelter medicine, but also wanted to live closer to his son. Leaving his secure position at VETCO, he took a big career risk, accepted the job, and his professional life—and outlook—changed forever.
“That job was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Stewart said. “Before I worked at the shelter, I didn’t understand my responsibility to animals at large. As I learned about the many problems related to holding and destroying animals, I felt called upon as a vet to bring about change through awareness and education.”
At the shelter, Stewart successfully advocated for a new animal facility with a spay/neuter clinic and reduced county euthanasia rates through public outreach. Because of his work in the Modesto County shelter, and his advocacy for animals, he seemed a natural fit when AHA was looking for a new director of its No Animals Were Harmed® program. His experiences in supervising and caring for large groups of animals, and communicating with diverse stakeholders, proved the perfect skillset for the position.
“Veterinary medicine is not just about the X’s and O’s of clinical practice,” Stewart said. “It’s about people skills and communication skills. Those are the skills that last a lifetime.”
Stewart readily acknowledges that he is working with “a very different animal” in his new position, but maintains a strong sense of responsibility for all the animals his team watches over. It may be “showbiz,” but for this veterinarian it’s still about being responsible to animals, and helping to bring about positive change through awareness and education.