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TCA Press Tour: National Geographic's 'Rescue Ink Unleashed'

July 29, 2009 |  2:55 pm


Animals are always a big hit at press tour, but when they come accompanied by larger-than-life, tattooed humans, how can the National Geographic Channel go wrong?

Here in the fancy ballroom to promote "Rescue Ink Unleashed," which premieres Sept. 25, were Big Ant, Johnny O, Joe Panz and Eric, members of Rescue Ink,  the most unique animal rescue group that conceivably exists. These are reformed bad guys who love animals and have dedicated their lives to rescuing them from abuse and "educating" their owners, whatever that takes.

Who is Joe Panz? The leader of Rescue Ink, who comes from a family of animal lovers and rescuers and used to get in a lot of trouble. He has many scars but only one that he Crazy-Glued himself: the one on his chest. Ten years ago, he survived being shot five times and decided to turn to his love of animals to change his life.

Big Ant? A 320-pound Harley-loving and father who happens to be very funny.

Johnny O? A 6'2" father of two teenagers who once was an alcoholic and now is trained in martial arts.

Eric? A new member of the group, he is a 230-pound menacing man who is not afraid to spend time with small dogs. (He had one on his lap during the entire session).

After The New York Times wrote about the organization, National Geographic approached the men about documenting their work for a series.

"They are a group of homegrown rescuers who are doing things no other group was doing," said executive producer Kim Woodard. "We approached them and told them we thought they were doing something special ... Not only do they take on cases no other group does, they go in and address animal abusers and educate them about what they should be doing differently. Because of their street smarts, they are able to talk to people in a different way and people are able to change their ways."

The process works this way, Panz said. Complains are lodged on the group's website. If an investigation is warranted, a retired homicide detective who is part of the organizations runs a criminal background on the pet owner. Then Panz and the other members discuss the situation and determine how many people should respond to the scene. If they remove a pet from a household, they take the animal to the vet for evaluation and then determine whether it should be placed in a foster home for potential adoption or at a sanctuary for aggressive animals. All expenses are covered by the members and through donations.

Asked if the cameras makes pet owners behave a certain way, Panz said the rescuers behave the same way with or without the cameras. Pet owners are filmed if they allow it.

"We do have to worry about the safety of the camera people," he said.

"If we showed up at your door, would it matter if we had cameras?" Big Ant said, drawing laughs from the TV critics. "They ought to be happy the cameras are there!"

Do the rescuers teach through intimidation only, or does it sometimes go further?

"It's an in-your-face approach within the means of law," Johnny O said.

"We can't rescue animals if we're sitting in a jail cell," Big Ant noted.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

Credit: National Geographic Channel