EXCERPT: 'Rescue Ink'

The guys put it to a vote, and all except Batso, who abstained, wrote their choice on a piece of paper, crumpled it up, and tossed it in a Styrofoam coffee cup. Ali had a cluster of votes, then Rebel came on strong. When all but one of the slips of paper had been read, the two names were neck and neck, at four votes each.

Bruce unfolded the last vote and read it aloud.

Rebel it was, with five votes.

The inspiration was American Idol.

On a Sunday afternoon in late February, the Rescue Ink guys—all except G, Batso, and Angel—took their seats behind two adjacent banquet tables in a ballroom at Junior's catering hall, Chateau la Mer. Almost by osmosis, Junior had become the newest Rescue Ink member: Though he didn't have any ink, he had been there for almost all of the rescues in the last two months. Behind the guys, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the Great South Bay, where wedding parties often arrived by yacht. Waiting in an adjacent room were about two dozen potential volunteers who had learned about this casting call of sorts from an e-mail and follow-up calls from Mary.

Rescue Ink had always operated with a sort of pack mentality, but as its projects grew more ambitious, the need for help at events, at the clubhouse, and behind the scenes in general had become increasingly obvious. The guys had compiled a list of interview questions for the assembled attendees. Some were obvious: What kind of experience do you have with animals? Can you foster an animal? Can you do transport, or work on fund-raising? Some were vaguer: Do you remember the experience that made you love animals so much?

One by one, the prospective volunteers came into the ballroom and handed their applications to Johnny O, who sat at one end of the long table. Some were old hands at rescue. Others were stay-at-home moms or recent retirees with time on their hands and the yearning to do a good deed. There was Fran, a teacher retired after thirty-three years in the classroom. (When she taught special ed, "I had a lot of guys like you in class," she said matter-of-factly. "I know how to handle you.") There was a twenty-something vet tech who admitted to having been turned down by seventeen vet schools. There was Brian, twenty-three, in an Ed Hardy sweatshirt, who had gotten tattoos of his late dog's actual pawprints. The youngest applicant was ten-year-old Angeline, who stood ramrod straight and answered all the questions with the composure of a Marine. What they all had in common was a genuine love for animals, a desire to help them, and perhaps not a little bit of curiosity about this band of tough guys.

A woman named Lauren had a virtual menagerie in her house: four dogs and four cats, all rescues, and some birds. "I've had pigs, iguanas, lizards, snakes, scorpions," she said, ticking off a veritable phylum. "I lost the scorpion in my room once, and it ended up in the laundry basket." Not surprisingly, Lauren came from a family of animal lovers. "When I was born, my mom had rescued a skunk," she explained. "It used to sleep in the sink."

"Was that an excuse for your mom not to do the dishes?" Ant joked.

When it was his turn, a thirteen-year-old named Dylan talked about the three rescued pit bulls he owned. "There are people who are fi ghting them that are ruining that breed," he said, running his hand through his crew cut.

"And that's because abusers are . . . ?" said Joe, trailing off expectantly.

"Losers," replied Dylan without missing a beat.

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