THE LITTLE, brown-and-white pit bull can’t reach the bucket of water set out for him, so he sits quietly on the front porch of a Chester apartment as flies buzz around his ears on a sweltering Sunday afternoon.
When the doors of a pickup truck slam, and Wolf and Cujo walk toward him, the dog slowly stands, his tail wagging when he hears their voices.
“Hey, pretty boy. Hey there, pretty boy,” Wolf says, untangling the dog’s leash from a post.
To an abused or neglected animal in the Philly region, Wolf and Cujo are saviors. To everyone else, particularly anyone responsible for an animal’s misery, they look like outlaw bikers — burly men with tattooed biceps that knock real hard on a front door when there’s a problem. At this house, a little boy sticks his head out of a second-floor window to see what’s going on. His parents, he tells Wolf, are sleeping. It’s 1 p.m.
“We’ll be back,” Wolf says as he hops back into Cujo’s Dodge Ram, where heavy metal’s on the radio. “That dog is really sweet and he should be in a nicer home.”
Not waiting for permission
A few years ago, the men who make up Justice Rescue — including Wolf, Cujo, Crash, House and Kidd — would have been out on their Harleys on a Sunday, having a blast on the highways like every other biker in the area. But, as they said earlier that Sunday at a McDonald’s in Prospect Park, Delaware County, each has his own reason for spending hours in rough neighborhoods every week, walking into abandoned houses, dealing with wasps, snakes, rats, poison ivy and suspicious residents, just to save a cat or dog.
“When you feel there’s nothing left in the world, with nothing left to be here for, having a dog can save your life,” says Wolf, who speaks for Justice Rescue. “Dogs are really why we’re still here.”
The other men nod in agreement, staring into their coffee.
None of the men in Justice Rescue wants the Daily News to use his real name, but each insists the group is not a bunch of vigilantes out to harass anyone with a pit bull. They work hand-in-hand with local police departments and animal-welfare agencies and are careful not to step on anyone’s toes when it comes to other investigations.
Then again, if someone’s hiding fighting pit bulls in the basement of an abandoned building or a dog’s so weak that it can’t stand up to go to the bathroom, Wolf’s not waiting for permission to do something about it.
“We will not be intimidated,” he says. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Dislike of dogfighting
Wolf, 37, owns a motorcycle-and-auto-repair shop. He started the rescue group with fellow member Crash about a year ago. Today, they have dozens of volunteers who help with surveillance. Most of their missions are based on tips supplied to their website, justice-rescue.com, or their Facebook page.
They have a real disike for pit-bull fighting and know all the telltale signs, whether it’s a worn-out patch of dirt in a playground or a particular odor rising from a vacant lot. A dog’s collar can give it away.
“Is that a pit bull?” Wolf asks a boy walking a pit bull in Chester. “Why do you have that big lock around its neck?”
The boy says the heavy lock’s there “to make its neck bigger.”
“Oh, yeah? Why do you need to make its neck bigger?” Wolf replies, pretending not to know.
Justice Rescue has worked in Kensington, a hotbed of dogfighting, as well as in Bucks and Delaware counties and in New Jersey. The Delaware County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says Justice Rescue donated reward money that helped locate the former owner of Curious George, an emaciated pit bull found in Lower Chichester last year.
“That was extremely helpful,” says Justina Calgiano, director of community relations for the Delco SPCA.
Toward the end of the day, after Wolf and Cujo have collected a half-dozen addresses they want to visit again, they grab a huge sheet of donated plywood and a dog bed and head out to a house in Collingdale, Delaware County, where they’ve gotten reports that a mixed-breed dog is being left in an outside kennel with no roof.
As they bang on the rowhouse door, the curtains rustle and a neighbor tells the men to leave the family alone. They ignore her.
Ten minutes later, Cujo, Crash, Kidd and Wolf are putting the plywood over the kennel out back, and the family is genuinely grateful, having no idea how hot concrete can get in the sun.
“That’s all we wanted,” Wolf says. “We’re not the police. We’re just here to help.”