Three days had passed since Clara, a three-year-old English bulldog, was stolen outside a grocery store in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. The NYPD followed a few leads but in a city with nearly 500 homicides a year, a missing dog was not exactly at the top of the local police blotter. Then a crew of intimidating-as-hell, tattoo-clad equalizers heard about the missing pooch from a neighborhood poster and hit the streets. Convinced that the theft wasn't the work of some punk kids, the crew roamed the area, pounding on the doors of local dealers, thugs, and anyone desperate enough to steal a defenseless animal in broad daylight. After an afternoon spent scanning the area and asking questions, it became obvious that they weren't fucking around. The crew sent out a clear message: all you scumbags are going to see plenty more of us until this dog is returned, and that won't be a pleasant experience. Casting an awesome shadow over Hell's Kitchen's notorious underbelly, the dog was handed over in a few hours. It was the group's third high-profile dog rescue that month. "Some people won't talk to cops," says Johnny O, a martial arts instructor with the group whose glasses also earned him the nickname Clark Kent. "They'll talk to us."
This is Rescue Ink, the toughest and most colorful animal rights advocates in history.
After meeting at local tattoo and hot rod conventions, the nine members of Rescue Ink formed with the intention of helping animals. They knew their huge builds, numerous tattoos and imposing presence would immediately intimidate abusers. The threat of Rescue Ink may be implicit, but it works.
"When we approach someone's house, they shit bricks," admits George, a refrigerator-sized African-American Connecticut fireman and official member of Rescue Ink. "They see a group of big guys with tattoos on their face and they give us the [abused] dogs."
Every member of the squad has tattoos, many of them on their face. Today, the tattoos on George's enormous arms, including fresh work courtesy of his Iraq War vet brother, are covered by long-sleeves. Batso, a 74-year old former body-shop worker, has visible tattoos everywhere, including eyes on his palms and bats on his head and ears. When a construction worker from a nearby site walks by and sees Batso's inked head and Fu Manchu moustache, he doesn't try to keep his thoughts to himself. "Jesus Christ" he mutters out loud. He's just met Rescue Ink, and if he's been abusing animals he just might have to meet them again sometime soon.