After Chris Van Dorn got his pilot’s license, he learned about a community of pilots who use their aviation skills to transport four-legged friends in need. Driven by his passion for animals, Chris started his own nonprofit to empty shelters across the country. He hopes to one day take to the skies and fly animals to their forever homes, but for now he’s transporting them by car — with a twist. To help raise awareness, Chris does this all while dressed as his favorite superhero… Batman.
In Chris’s words, the story of Batman4Paws from his interview on GoFundMe’s podcast, True Stories of Good People:
I’ve always had a passion for animals. Growing up, I would save turtles, and we always had dogs and cats. About five years ago, my dad decided we should get another dog because our family dog had passed away. He’d always wanted an Australian shepherd, and we found Mr. Boots through a rescue organization called Pilots N Paws.
Mr. Boots had quite the back-story. He was found wandering around the woods in Alabama, emaciated and covered in fleas and ticks. With the help of Pilots N Paws and another dog rescue, a pilot flew this half-starved, scruffy-looking pooch to us. Mr. Boots’ story inspired me to give back and help other animals in need. I never would have known about the possibility of rescuing animals in a plane if it wasn’t for him.
Then, I started volunteering for Pilots N Paws and met my friend Rick. He’s a super awesome guy and has been flying with them for the past three or four years. I had just gotten my pilot’s license at the time, so he invited me to join him in rescuing animals in his own plane.
I got the idea to start my own nonprofit Batman4Paws after I saw a viral video of a guy named Lenny Robinson who was going to a hospital dressed as Batman to spend time with cancer patients. As a kid, I watched the animated Batman series and loved that he stood for strength and goodwill. So I thought, “Okay, what can I do to put my own spin on this?”
Eight months ago, I started Batman4Paws as a way to use my skills to give back in a unique way. I dress up as Batman and take pictures with shelter dogs that are high up on the kill list to get them more attention. The idea is that these dogs are more likely to get seen and adopted if Batman is in the photo.
Sometimes, I’ll dress up Mr. Boots in a Robin costume to join me for adoption events. I also rescue and transport dogs in need throughout Florida and beyond. Or cats. Or bunnies. Any animal in need — I am there to help if I can. I just want to do my part and try to empty all of the cages at animal shelters.
My first dog rescue as Batman was helping a dog named Balto. There was a lot of nervous energy beforehand. I wondered how Balto was going to react to the Batman suit, but everything worked out. Nine out of 10 dogs are cool with the Batman suit. All of these dogs are just happy to have someone there who cares for them.
Some of these rescue missions have a lot of moving parts. A group of volunteer rescuers will break up the transport into legs, and you’ll sometimes have a 10 or 12-person relay over two or three days until the dog gets to where it needs to go. Seeing the smiles on people’s faces at the end of a trip is amazing. It’s why I do this.
On my second mission, I transported a Shih Tzu named Ollie who was rescued from a puppy mill in Ohio. It was a three-day endeavor from his foster home in upstate New York, but he slowly made his way down here to his forever home in sunny Florida. He had a field day along the way because at every stop he made new friends and got to spend the night hanging out with other dogs.
Doing one rescue per month is my goal right now, but I’d love to bump it up to two. I started my GoFundMe in September to get the word out about my nonprofit and share my story with as many people as I could. For every $1,000 I raise, it allows me to help with 15 rescue missions. The funds raised are mainly used for transportation costs, leashes, bedding, and dog food.
I also really want to get cats on board. Cats are euthanized at a 70% higher rate than dogs because everyone wants to adopt dogs and not cats. I’d like to add a Cat Woman or some other superheroes to my rescue team.
In the next five years, my main goal is to eventually have my own plane and fly the dogs to their forever homes every week. I’m doing rescues through car transport right now because that’s how I can support it. Renting planes is really expensive — about $170 an hour — so until then, I’m following the motto, “Do the best you can with what you’ve got.”
I’m a firm believer that you get back what you put in. If you put in good energy and positive vibes and you’re really happy and passionate about what you’re doing, I swear to you, you’re going to get that right back.
Listen to Chris’s full interview on True Stories of Good People.