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Meet the real-life Batman who gives freedom rides to shelter animals

The founder of the nonprofit Batman4Paws dresses as the Caped Crusader to transport pets to safety.
Batman returns - as an animal rescuer
BEHIND THE MASK | Chris Van Dorn founded the nonprofit Batman4Paws to help rescue pets in need.Courtesy of Chris Van Dorn
/ Source: TODAY

There’s a well-worn saying that not all heroes wear capes.

But it’s sure fun when they do.

Case in point: the real-life Batman who’s made it his mission to rescue dogs and cats from being euthanized at shelters by transporting them to forever homes, foster families and other safe havens.

The man behind the mask is Chris Van Dorn, a 27-year-old vegan who grew up watching “Batman: The Animated Series.” In 2018, he founded the nonprofit Batman4Paws in Orlando, Florida.

“I liked that Batman was mysterious and stood for a symbol that was incorruptible and stood for good. I really admired that,” he told TODAY. “That’s what I wanted Batman4Paws to be: something that’s there just to be good. To try to do the best you can and stay true to the path.”

On his most recent transport, Van Dorn spent several days driving four dogs from Florida to Vermont, including two pit bull puppies named Ace and Zeus. Tomorrow he’ll drive a Labrador retriever and a schnauzer mixed breed to North Carolina.

“I’m just trying to do the best I can in the time I’ve got to help as many 'puppers' find their homes — and cats, too. Any animal in need, honestly,” he said.

Batman, aka Chris Van Dorn, has loved animals all his life.
Batman, aka Chris Van Dorn, transports an equally determined feline copilot.Courtesy of Chris Van Dorn

Unlike Bruce Wayne, he’s not a billionaire; his Batmobile is a small Honda Accord. (He’s hoping someone will donate a van or RV to Batman4Paws so he can transport many more animals.) He manages to stay cool in the heavy costume during the hot Florida summer with the help of “air conditioning, ice packs and a lot of determination.”

Chris Van Dorn dresses as Batman to save shelter animals
Most dogs immediately warm to the Batman suit since Van Dorn carries treats for them.Courtesy of Chris Van Dorn

During pit stops, he hands out stickers and talks about the importance of pet adoption.

“Stopping along the way, people always want to talk to me because they see Batman getting gas,” he said. “They’re curious why I’m dressed as Batman and why I have a car full of dogs. So I tell them what I do.”

While most dogs haven’t encountered Batman before they meet Van Dorn, he said nine out of 10 dogs immediately warm to him because he keeps dog treats in his suit. On his very first transport as Batman, he volunteered to drive a dog named Balto through Doobert, a platform that connects volunteer drivers with rescue organizations. He was nervous — how would the dog react to a man in a costume?

His fears proved unfounded: Balto sat happily in the front seat, watching the scenery go by and generally enjoying his freedom ride.

Animal rescuer Batman's first transport was a happy dog named Balto.
A happy pup named Balto was the first dog rescued by Batman4Paws.Courtesy of Chris Van Dorn

“Everything worked out,” he said. “That was a really special rescue.”

The superhero recently helped his own dog, Mr. Boots, pass a therapy dog test. The two plan to visit hospital patients dressed, of course, as Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo has already volunteered at adoption events together.

Batman and Robin, aka Chris Van Dorn and Mr. Boots, volunteer together.
The Dynamic Duo will soon visit hospital patients together as a therapy dog team.Courtesy of Chris Van Dorn

Mr. Boots inspired Van Dorn’s interest in animal rescue; volunteers from the nonprofit Pilots N Paws flew the Aussie shepherd to his forever home with Van Dorn and his family. At the time, he was earning his own pilot’s license and went on to volunteer with Pilots N Paws. In one memorable instance, he helped transport a pregnant dog who gave birth to a litter of puppies just three days later.

Van Dorn initially hoped to rent planes to transport rescue pets as Batman, but it proved too costly. He’d love to eventually buy an airplane and fly needy animals through Batman4Paws.

In the meantime, he balances his work as an audio engineer with trying to do as much good in his free time as possible.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate, but it’s worth it,” he said. “You get back what you put out. It’s just really gratifying.”

To volunteer to transport shelter animals from locations throughout the U.S., visit: