UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — During the week, Dr. Andrew Kaplan is a Upper West Side veterinarian catering to the pets of the affluent.
But on his weekends, this popular vet ventures into some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods to offer green spaying and neutering for cats and dogs.
It all began when Kaplan met an adorable mixed breed puppy named Toby on death row in a city animal shelter.
“He was labeled aggressive and un-adoptable,” Dr. Kaplan told PIX 11. “He was scheduled to be put down the next day.”
Dr. Kaplan went back to New York City’s Animal Care and Control to plead for the life of the three-month-old pooch he’d fallen for. Because he’s a vet, he was allowed to adopt the puppy considered too aggressive to place.
“Animals shouldn’t die in shelters because they don’t have homes,” Dr. Kaplan said. “Shelters are killing for space and that is not acceptable.”
So in 2009, Dr. Kaplan founded the Toby Project named after his beloved buddy, who died last year at the age of 13.
“The reason I named the project after him is he was almost a casualty of system,” Dr. Kaplan said.
So every weekend for the past six years, The Toby Project mobile clinic truck and a team of surgeons head to under-served neighborhoods to spay and neuter dogs and cats for free.
“If you look at the data, the neighborhoods that surrender the most pets are in the lowest-income neighborhoods. If you have less animals reproducing, less animals being killed,” Dr. Kaplan said.
In Parkchester one recent Saturday morning, the owner of an adorable puggle named Molly was so grateful for the free neutering.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s great because animal care can be very expensive.”
And when Nilsa Astacio, a dog owner, heard that the vet who started the Toby Project volunteers his services for free on weekends, she was even more thankful.
“Animals become a part of you. They become a part of your heart,” Astacio told PIX11. “When you put the care of your pet with a vet who cares so much, it’s great.”
To many in the Bronx, Dr. Kaplan is a hero, but to this unassuming vet, he is just doing what he was put on earth to do.
“It hurts me to know that animals are dying in shelters because they don’t have homes. If I can do something about it then I am going to try,” Dr. Kaplan said.
To find out more about when the Toby Project mobile clinic might be coming to your neighborhood, check out their website, Tobyproject.org.