Dr. Phillips High alumnus Chris Van Dorn moonlights as Batman, using his ‘Batmobile’ to transport animals in need to forever homes throughout Florida and beyond.
Dr. Phillips High alumnus Chris Van Dorn loves the attention his Batman suit garners when he stops at gas stations to refuel. It’s an instant conversation-starter, and it brings smiles to people’s faces.
But even better than the Batman suit is the reason behind it — Van Dorn is also the founder of nonprofit Batman4Paws, and he transports animals to no-kill shelters and safe homes in his “Batmobile.” When he tells people this is why he’s dressed as Batman, their smiles get even bigger.
After all, it’s not who he is underneath, but what he does that defines him.
Van Dorn, 27, was born and raised in Dr. Phillips, and has had a passion for animals for as long as he can remember. He has been vegan since age 21 much for this reason, and finding a way to use his skills and interests to help animals always was a top priority.
Batman4Paws was born from that desire, but Van Dorn said it was a series of events that fell into place that solidified what he wanted to do. Aside from working full time, Van Dorn also is a certified private pilot — another passion of his that blossomed in middle school.
His dog, Mr. Boots, is an Australian shepherd who was rescued through Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit organization that connects rescues and shelters with volunteer pilots and plane owners willing to assist with animal transportation. Van Dorn initially wanted to use his aviation skills to transport animals. But because he doesn’t yet have a plane of his own, he’s sticking to automobile transport for the time being.
“What led up to (Batman4Paws) was a culmination of me having a passion for animals ever since I was a little kid, going vegan when I was 21 and trying to combine my passions of flying and animals together,” Van Dorn said. “I was trying to find a way to use my skills to help animals, and that was flying. I became a private pilot, and then found out about Pilots N Paws through my dog, who was a rescue through them.
“(Animals) keep me company, and my dog changed my life,” he said. “I would not be into animal rescue or doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for Mr. Boots here. It’s really cliché to say, but he rescued me — he helped me repay the favor.”
After Mr. Boots came into the picture, Van Dorn knew he wanted to take action to help other animals just like his dog. He decided to volunteer his time to helping transport animals statewide and beyond to no-kill shelters, foster homes and forever homes.
The Batman element was sparked by Van Dorn’s love for the superhero. Since childhood he watched the Batman animated series and loved the movies — as well as Batman’s knack for goodwill.
“He was a symbol of goodwill, so I thought he embodied good deeds and being the change the world needs to see,” Van Dorn said. “So, I thought I’d throw that in the mix, too, because who doesn’t like Batman?”
Van Dorn’s nonprofit, Batman4Paws, launched in May 2018. He started a GoFundMe to help raise funds for animal care and transport, and even got a custom-made Batman suit — along with a Robin dog costume for his sidekick, Mr. Boots.
Although he works full time, on days off, you might see Batman himself driving down the highway in the Batmobile — a silver Honda Civic coupe — with a couple of animals in the backseat.
Things really took off last month, when he was featured as GoFundMe’s Hero for May. Through GoFundMe’s promotion and other media attention, Van Dorn has raised more than $30,000 for Batman4Paws to date.
“I definitely have options now, and I want to try to maximize the funds in the best way I can to get as many animals rescued as possible,” he said. “They’re starting to flow in more — I have one next week going to South Carolina, and the one after that I’m going to Vermont.”
Van Dorn works with many shelters and rescues to help achieve their goal of finding animals forever homes and keeping them safe. He’s been on 11 rescue missions as of press time, with many more lined up in the near future. The goal is to do as many transports as he can to help as many animals as possible.
And although his Batmobile is a handy resource, he hopes to soon have a van that would allow him to transport more animals at a time.
“I’m putting the feelers out there — if someone wants to donate a van, that would be awesome, because I don’t want Batman4Paws funds to be used for (a van itself),” he said. “I want them to be used for animal care and transport. Mainly the funds are being used for fuel, leashes and cages.”
Right now, Van Dorn hopes to be able to embark on multiple rescue missions each month while balancing his full-time job. He will continue to moonlight as Batman and do good deeds in the name of changing the lives of animals and their humans.
“The most rewarding part is that I get animals to a good, loving home and that (people) can share in having a pet like my own dog, who changed my life,” he said. “No. 1 for me is that I’m getting a dog or cat to his forever home or a no-kill shelter. No. 2 is the family’s reaction and seeing their faces and smiles — it warms my heart. I’m hoping I’m able to share what I’ve gotten out of adopting a rescue dog and give it back to them.”