Manhattan veterinarian goes extra mile for cats

Runs one-of-a-kind, solo marathons to raise funds for senior rescue

May 29, 2019 (published)
By Lisa Wogan

Photo courtesy Peter Soboroff
Dr. Peter Soboroff was photographed running a 5K race in his hometown of Dobbs Ferry, New York. Because he tackles the New York Cat Hospital Senior Cat Rescue Marathon alone, he has no pictures from those runs.

Dr. Peter Soboroff switched on his headlamp and started jogging down a trail in rural Westchester County, New York, one June night three years ago. It was midnight, very dark, and he was spooked. "I was sure I was going to be killed and eaten by a bear," Soboroff said.

Over the next few hours, he covered 26 solitary miles. The only animals he encountered were a possum and a drunken teenager. At the end of his nocturnal ramble, he had raised $7,000 for senior cat rescue organizations. He'd also developed a strong distaste for dark woods.

The 56-year-old owner of New York Cat Hospital on Manhattan's Upper West Side has sworn off midnight treks, but he still tackles an original, solo marathon every year to benefit senior cat rescue. His sixth annual effort will be June 17. He plans to circumnavigate Manhattan, crossing all 17 pedestrian-accessible bridges that enter the island. His fundraising goal is $50,000, to be split among three rescues. So far, the race has generated more than $21,000 in donations.

Soboroff cooked up the idea for the one-man marathons on his own, and then let the rescues know, said Doug Halsey, who runs Ready for Rescue, one of the beneficiary organizations. Halsey has known Soboroff for nearly 20 years as a client, for his own and rescue cats. "No other vet has ever done this much," Halsey said. "It's a unique experience where a vet goes above and beyond to raise money."

Halsey said the unusual, solo marathons are typical of Soboroff's out-of-the box thinking and quirky sense of humor. The contributions are a big help in offsetting the all-volunteer organization's veterinary expenses, which can run $120,000 a year.

Soboroff opened his feline-only practice 13 years ago, after earning a DVM in 1996 from the University of Illinois. "I very much enjoy working on cats," he said during an interview with the VIN News Service. "It's quiet and peaceful; it's a different vibe."

In the course of his career, he's witnessed some of the heartbreak that comes as cats age. "Senior cats are abandoned or surrendered to area shelters simply for being old or maybe they are sick or maybe just unwanted," he said. For his part, he's taken outcasts into his home, and he always has several rescue cats in residence at his practice. He also offers discounted services to rescue organizations "because I believe in the work they are doing," he said. "These folks are tireless in these efforts."

Rescuers say the same about Soboroff.

Bunny Hofberg, who runs Frankie's Feline Fund, another beneficiary of the marathon, said, "[Soboroff] leaves no stone unturned when it comes to vet care." That's a quality she relies on, since Frankie's specializes in senior and diabetic cats.

Soboroff was Hofberg's veterinarian at another companion animal clinic well before he opened his cat practice. When he went out on his own, she visited the new clinic, which was just getting going, but she knew he'd soon be very busy. "I looked at him and said, ‘Don't you ever forget me,' " she remembered. "He has kept his word; he has always been there."

Just do it

Soboroff is self-deprecating about his marathons. "I don't do these things fast. I'm not setting records here. I'm not flying through the streets," he said. "The running joke is, I do these things and then declare myself the winner."

Running marathons started with what sounds like a chance event in June 2014. The first time, as he tells it, his wife drove him out to the country, dropped him off on the side of the road and waited at home to see if he could make the 26-mile return. "Much to her chagrin, I did," he said with a laugh. "You know, she's looking at her watch thinking, ‘Is it too soon to start dating?' But, no, I made it back home."

His second solo marathon was what he calls a "no brainer." He followed the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, 26.2 miles along a railroad bed paralleling the lower Hudson River in Westchester County. He added fundraising via GoFundMe to benefit Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct.

Then came the Midnight Marathon in 2016. This time he established a GoFundMe page to benefit senior cat rescue, and promoted the marathon via emails to clients, friends and family. The beneficiary rescue organizations also put the word out through their own channels.

In 2017, he navigated the periphery of Manhattan, staying as close as possible to the water. "I didn't plan this very well because by the time I was done, it was 36 miles," he said. At the 26-mile mark, he started walking and took more than 10 hours to finish.

Still, he raised about $17,000. The many bridges he encountered on the journey inspired this year's route.

Soboroff said he looks for a gimmick and ways to keep the marathons interesting mile after mile. He dubbed last year's run the Tri-state Marathon. He started just over the Connecticut-New York border, ran through Westchester and north Manhattan, and crossed the George Washington Bridge into Fort Lee, New Jersey. Total miles: 30. Temperature: scorching hot in the 90s. Funds raised: $30,000.

During his marathons, Soboroff looks like any runner out for a quick spin. He carries cash, a credit card, ID, phone, spare battery and headphones. "My pockets are stuffed with everything I might need," he said. He stops at shops to get water. Seventies music and power pop are his soundtrack.

He posts his progress on Twitter in real time via the Runkeeper app. "Not many people follow me, not even my own wife," he said. (He has 43 followers.) Undeterred, sometimes he tweets pictures from the route.

A dedicated runner for about 10 years, Soboroff has worked up to official marathons, complete with bib numbers, water stations and other competitors. He's completed the Brooklyn Marathon for the past three years.

On June 17, he'll be alone again for the Sixth Annual New York Cat Hospital Senior Cat Rescue Marathon. However, this may be his last solo. He said that supporters often offer to join him (although usually after the fact), and he knows if he can get others to run with him, he'll be able to raise more for cat rescue, which is the point.

"That probably would be the end of my winning streak but that's OK," he said.

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