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The Toby Project
A committed vet tackles NYC’s pet overpopulation


Andy Kaplan with Griff (left) and Toby (right)

We’ve all heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; well, the saving of thousands of New York’s dog lives may begin with a single vet.

In 2007, according to statistics provided by New York City’s Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), approximately 40 percent of the 44,000 dogs and cats housed in city shelters were euthanized simply because there were not enough homes for them. That’s a staggering number—about 44 animals per day—and a New York City vet, Dr. Andrew J. Kaplan, wants to put a stop to that.

“This intolerable problem exists because the city’s uncontrolled stray population reproduces naturally,” Kaplan says, “and too many pet owners allow their dogs and cats to breed without contemplating the consequences.”

To address this problem, Kaplan has founded the Toby Project, named after his beloved Wolfhound-mix, Toby. The mission of the Toby Project is quite simple, and quite ambitious: to end the killing of thousands of adoptable dogs and cats each year in New York City’s animal shelters. How? Through a well-organized, well-funded spay/neuter program.

Naysayers claim that this is impossible—that New York City simply has too many people, and too many animals. But if anyone could tackle such a problem single-handedly, Kaplan probably could. Twice voted New York City’s best vet by New York magazine, Kaplan is compassionate and magnetic, with the sort of confidence and boundless enthusiasm that inspires people to have faith in him. And to want to help him.

The concrete goal of the Toby Project is to ultimately fund the operation of five mobile surgical vans that will take education and free spay/neuter services to NYC residents who need them most— specifically, those communities that supply or surrender the most animals to municipal shelters. “By reaching out to targeted communities,” Kaplan says,“we can help prevent the breeding of the very dogs and cats whose offspring account for most of the animals relinquished to our municipal shelters, where they are often killed.”

Kaplan is absolutely certain the Toby Project can make a difference, primarily because it is being modeled after the famous STOP program (Solutions to Overpopulation Of Pets) of New Hampshire. STOP—headed by Peter Marsh, another mover and shaker— also provides educational outreach and free spay/neuter services to local communities.

“Adequately funded spay/neuter programs that focus on low-income communities have led to great success in reducing shelter populations and subsequent high death rates in cities in New Hampshire, Utah and California,” Kaplan says. “In the past six years, the STOP program has managed to reduce the shelter population in New Hampshire by 65 percent. The success of STOP proves that if you work with low-income city residents, you will decrease shelter populations.”

The project is currently in the midst of its crucial fundraising stage. One van alone costs $240,000. Kaplan estimates that it will cost another $325,000 per year to operate the van, “in terms of salaries [for the on-board vets, nurses, drivers, handlers], supplies, gas, licensing, insurance and so forth. That means for the first year, we need to raise about $565,000.”

But these numbers are not daunting to Kaplan. He speaks with the certainty of a man who knows his goals will be met. “Kathryn Beason of Animal Friendly NYC did a study in New York City and found that if the city spayed/neutered 49,000 dogs, the problem [of overpopulation and euthanasia] would be solved within five years. We can make New York a truly ‘no-kill’ city. The Toby Project wants to perform 30,000 operations in the first year.” So far, the project has received funding through private donations and grants. A team of 12 volunteers handles everything— including the marketing and the fundraising—and people are coming out of the woodwork to offer help.“Our group has a fantastic chemistry,” Kaplan says. “We are the only organization in NYC whose sole mission is to address pet overpopulation at its inception by preventing the births of unwanted dogs and cats.”



Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch. emharrington.com

Photograph by Melissa Wiedemann