Tuesday, 22 December 2009
I read about the New York bikers in The New York Times.
They met on the local hot rod scene. They saw one another at tattoo conventions around the area, comparing bikes. They looked like heavies, a band of Hells Angels, with nicknames equally tough: Mike Tattoo, Big Ant, Johnny O, Batso, Sal, Angel, Des.
They meant no harm. Clad in leather, inked to the hilt in skulls and dragons, with images of bloodied barbed wire looped about their necks, they shared something else — a peculiar tenderness for animals, and the intensity needed to act on the animals’ behalf when people abuse them.
“I’m a vegetarian,” said Mike Tattoo, a former bodybuilding champion with a shaved head, great arms covered in art and a probing clarity in his blue eyes.
The group became a little larger over the course of about 15 years, with various animal-loving, tattooed bikers in the New York area joining the conversation. One member, Angel Nieves, a 47-year-old retired city police detective, grew up in the projects on West 125th Street and remembered taking in strays from the streets as a boy, as did many of his cohorts. He owns a tiny, white bichon frisé named Cris.
Having run in crowds where animal abuse was rampant, often involving pit bull fights, the men volunteered at shelters and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and they tried to solve cases of missing or abused animals that other organizations had neither the time nor the resources to address.
A man named Robert Missari pulled everything together. Mike Tattoo met Mr. Missari about 18 months ago at a hot rod convention called the Rumbler. Though Mr. Missari is not inked — he works in catering — he loves animals and broached the idea that the bikers should become more than just friends bound by a commitment to a common cause; he wanted them to become an organization. About a year ago, they took up the name Rescue Ink, and now work full time investigating cases of animal abuse.
Mr. Missari is the executive director and the dispatcher for this biker brotherhood, working from his office in Manhattan, where he spends some of his time phoning in leads to the men on the road (“Yo, we got a report of five pit bulls living in 55-gallon drums”). He gets up to 250 calls a day.
The men rescue pedigreed animals sold for a pittance to buy drugs, animals used for fighting and bait, and colonies of feral cats that angry neighbours have tried to shoot or poison. They have received calls from Australia (“Dingoes, I guess,” Angel said) and reports of a serial cat killer in Pennsylvania.
A large man with dark hair and a tidy goatee, Angel is built like a bouncer who might ruin someone’s night. A retired police detective with 20 years on the force, he investigated killings, narcotics and larceny, and speaks with the clipped cadence of a good film noir.
On his way to work, Nick Maccharoli, who goes by the name Batso, chats with Desi Calderon, known as Des, the Cat Man. Batso, 74, who holds a record for power lifting in Connecticut, wore a Fu Manchu moustache and a pointed beard. His head is shaved as bald as a snow globe, except for a skinny black ponytail. Tattooed spider webs creep about the back of his neck, a snake coils over an ear, and where the ponytail begins, the two wings of a huge bat conjoin. On his left calf, Jesus hoists a barbell.
There is, Big Ant, also known as Anthony Missano, waiting, reclining on his Harley, along with Mike Tattoo on a 1959 Honda.
Big Ant, “a little guy,” as the others describe him, is a little more than 6 feet tall and around 320 pounds. He was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and sunglasses with small orange lenses. The tattoo of a red lightning bolt sliced down his enormous arm.
Other members of the squad arrive, among them Johnny O, a former bodyguard who once waded waist deep into a pond near a sewage pipe to rescue a duck; and Biagi, who is to dogs what Des is to cats: a psychic force.
Then there is Biagi, who uses only his last name for security reasons. Batso mentioned that he often took his dog with him to church.
“A lot of people think a pit bull fighting is millions of people sitting in a ring cheering,” Big Ant said. “It’s not. It goes on in an abandoned box truck. A van is perfect. Just two guys. They throw the dog in the back; then one guy goes in there and says which dog is dead. Two teenagers that think they’re tough.”
The men see a lot of pit bull fights in the city, most of it unreported. Mainly, they say, the fighting is organized by teenagers or young men, often in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Sometimes gentler breeds are used as training bait, their mouths duct-taped shut so they cannot fight back.
Rescue Ink works closely with law enforcement agencies, as members are quick to point out when they are accused of vigilantism. While they may get rough, they never break the law. “If Option A doesn’t work, we go to Option B,” Mike Tattoo said. “If that fails, there’s always Option C.”
Since they started doing this work, which takes up more time than most full-time employment, two of the men have lost their construction jobs. They spend their nights researching and making phone calls, and spend fair amounts of money on pet food and vet bills.