'Bad' guys are pussycats on 'Rescue Ink Unleashed'

Rescue Ink member Batso and his dog Inka

Rescue Ink member Batso and his dog Inka Photo Credit: National Geographic Channel, 2009

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THE SHOW"Rescue Ink Unleashed"

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WHEN | WHERE Docu-reality hour premieres Friday night at 10 on NatGeo.

REASON TO WATCH Local tattooed-dude animal rescuers are so soft on pets, they come down hard on abusers.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Island Park-based nonprofit group Rescue Ink includes these eight hulking wheels-and-tats guys, who may look like bad news but do good deeds. In premiere missions, they cross paths with a West Hempstead man enraged over cats getting in his yard, a hospitalized South Bronx veteran with three pit bulls waiting hungry in his projects apartment, and a Queens neighborhood beset by roaming chickens.

BOTTOM LINE Playing the guys' big-and-mean appearance/ attitudes against their sentiment for animals is a winning juxtaposition - even when the show leans too hard on genre staples like busy editing, foreboding music/video and hard-boiled narration.

Better to slow down and get to know these guys, especially when narration says they're doing good at least partly to "redeem past sins."

But "Rescue Ink Unleashed" parcels out the info slooowly - head-to-toe-tattooed 75-year-old Batso (Nicholas Maccharoli) lost his son to Lou Gehrig's disease; Big Ant (Anthony Rossano) has seven pets, including rabbits and a kitty; leader Joe Panz (Joe Panzarella) is a "body builder and mortgage broker" who previously had been "shot by enemies on the street." (At least their bios are online at natgeotv.com/rescueink. There's also the book "Rescue Ink," co-authored by former Newsday pets columnist Denise Flaim. The guys will be at Huntington's Book Revue Oct. 2 at 7 p.m.)

Local animal lovers will appreciate how often NatGeo shows the guys working with city animal control, Long Island veterinarians and Port Jefferson Station's Save-a-Pet. Their adventures nicely go beyond the dog/cat nexus, too, following the guys' hapless stray chickens chase and their trip to Riverhead's Atlantis Marine World with rescued "pet" piranhas.

But it all comes back to the muscle when it comes to abusers. "You don't send a Boy Scout after a bad guy," Joe says. "You send a bad guy after a bad guy. The difference between us is, we're your bad guys. We're on your side." We wouldn't want it any other way.

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GRADE B+

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