It started out innocently enough. Well sort of. Nine real-life tattooed tough guys from various New York neighborhoods – Brooklyn, Queens, Ozone Park and Howard Beach. Witnessing acts of cowardice going down against animals, they began to take matters into their own hands. Don’t pick on the little guy. Don’t try to assert your supposed toughness on a weaker creature like a defenseless dog. And, don’t be a bully.
The guys who comprise this unorthodox rescue group called Rescue Ink, have zero tolerance for animal abuse. And it’s not an act, which becomes very apparent during a conversation with any one of them, which The New Barker did by phone on November 6, 2010. “Oh, we had to clean up the language a bit for publication,” said The New Barker editor, Anna Cooke. “But they are who they are, and that came across loud and clear even over the phone,” she added. Cooke interviewed the guys just after they’d finished marching in a National Pit Bull Awareness Day Parade in Austin, Texas. “There were 500 Pit Bull mixes registered to march with them that day,” added Cooke.
Joe Panz, one of the founding members of Rescue Ink told Cooke, “Look, we were the toughest guys in the neighborhood, so anytime anyone had a problem, they’d come to us. Back in the day, rescue groups were mostly comprised of women, and they started coming to us for help. All I can tell you is, whenever we arrived on the scene, we were pretty convincing. Still are.”
Reports and word of mouth began circulating, comparing the group to Robin Hood. And not the men-in-tights Robin Hood. No, we’re talking cigar chomping, hot rod and motorcycle-loving dudes, several of whom also have a passion for maintaining their ‘big guns.’ Joe’s particular workout schedule clocks in at a minimum of three hours a day.
It didn’t take long for the media like The New York Times to hone in on the group.
“They asked if they could come spend a day with us. They ended up following us around for three days,” said Joe. And things really took off after that.
Now the group fields between 200 and 300 calls per day. Requests for help come from all around the world, reporting cases of abuse, neglect or animal torture. If the guys can’t get to a case themselves, they call on their vast network of friends they’ve amassed over the last six years.
Their television gig with National Geographic for a season was a blessing and a curse. It brought the group exposure, but the public’s misconception is that the guys are now wealthy as a result.
To say they have each other’s backsides is an understatement. Each of these guys knows what the other is capable of doing. But violence is the last thing on their minds. “Anyone can use violence, but that doesn’t do anyone any good. You gotta be tough enough not to be scared to talk your way out of any situation. We call it peace with superior firepower. We do whatever is necessary within the law,” said Joe.
When they appear on the scene of abuse or neglect, their objective is to fix the problem, not take the animal away. They know the person involved in the abuse or neglect case will just get another dog.
The guys, who have had their own run-ins with the law, realize they’re in no position to judge. “We’re not the authority. But everyone deserves a second chance. Hey, we got one.”
As a fully functioning rescue group, Rescue Ink has veterinarians on call 24 hours a day to help out as needed. Their 25-acre rehabilitation center is run by Mary Fayet. They call her their Den Mom. “We also call her home ‘the land of broken toys.’ She has all these small dogs in various stages of health and rehabilitation that she takes care of,” said Joe.
Their Junior Pet Detective Program is directed towards kids. “We talk to them, discourage them from getting involved in gangs. We talk about bullying and tell them to stick up for the little guy. We tell them to champion those who can’t defend themselves. We tell them it is better to be admired than to be feared,” Joe said.
Big Ant, another founding member, added, “We’re just doing what we do. People listen to us. One way or the other, we’re gonna be heard.”
The guys consider themselves the rescue group for the rescue groups. “A lot of these groups, they think and act with their hearts, not their heads. And please, leave your egos at the door. It’s not about your rescue group or you. It’s about the dogs needing help. How are we going to fix a situation? That’s what keeps me going.”
Emotions run high with this band of brothers, but they believe that with every change, it’s one step forward in the right direction.
“When you think you’ve seen the worst, along comes something else that’s even worse. The laws have to be changed,” said the third founding member, John O, whose significant other is involved with a rescue group herself. He takes comfort in being with his family and kids. “My parents, they’re 83 years old and they still make me laugh,” he said.
He adds, “We can’t help everyone. We can’t save every dog. We have to just take each case as it comes. There are a lot of whacked out people out there. But I look at it this way…I’m able to sleep at night. It’s all okay because what goes around, believe me, definitely comes around.”
Rescue Ink is coming to Tampa Bay, March 4-6 as guests of Florida Boxer Rescue, The New Barker dog magazine, Fletcher’s Harley-Davidson, Bon Appetit Restaurant, Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County Animal Services. Dubbed the Humane Highway Tour, Rescue Ink will be making special appearances at Al Lopez Park, Tampa and Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin.