Chris Van Dorn is no stranger to a dark night.
His dad died this year — on Mother's Day. His mom is in a nursing home, living with a rare neurological disorder.
So the 27-year-old lives alone in the family's Orlando, Florida, home.
But he has an unlikely connection with someone else whose life was touched by tragedy: his favorite superhero.
After losing his parents, Bruce Wayne donned a mask and became the legendary Batman.
Van Dorn dons the same cape and mask — but he's a knight in powder-coated latex for another kind of victim.
He saves animals in distress.
Through his nonprofit rescue, Batman4Paws, Van Dorn transports countless cats and dogs to no-kill facilities or foster homes and even forever families.
And yes, when he's not working the overnight shift as an audio engineer, he slips into that iconic costume to be the hero animals need.
"Everybody just really likes the Dark Knight," Van Dorn tells MNN. "I thought that would be the perfect way to embody what I want my nonprofit to be. To do good deeds. To spread positive vibes, bring joy to people and rescue as many animals as I can."
The idea to save innocent animal lives was sown long before Van Dorn's life was touched by tragedy — with his dad playing a key role.
Back in 2014, Bob Van Dorn adopted a rescue dog. His son fell in love with the plucky Australian shepherd named Mr. Boots. The young Van Dorn soon learned that Mr. Boots had a dark past. He had been found abandoned in an Alabama forest, starving and covered in fleas and ticks. Saved by kind strangers, Mr. Boots made the most of his second chance.
Van Dorn resolved to give that same chance to the countless animals dumped at shelters in his home state. With his newly earned pilot's license, he volunteered to fly shelter pets to wherever they had a chance to find a real home.
In May 2018, Van Dorn's passion for unwanted pets took on superhuman proportions. He donned the suit, looking the hero from cape to chiseled chin — and founded his own rescue.
These days, the calls about death row animals come often, even on those mornings when Van Dorn hasn't yet gone to bed after his overnight shift.
"A lot of these cases are urgent," he explains. "The dog is going to be put down within hours. So they need somebody now."
Call the Cat's Crusader! Or the Dog Knight! Or … Goatman?
"If that call came in for me to rescue a goat or a pig, I would want to answer it just as badly as I would want to for a dog or a cat."
But he's still trying to find the balance between wanting to be everyone's hero and the daily demands of being a mild-mannered engineer.
"You can't do everything. That's what I'm trying to grapple with right now," he says.
But then another comes in. And soon Van Dorn is driving from an Orlando shelter to Knoxville, Tennessee, with a dog named Coco.
"We kind of bonded over our 10-hour drive," Van Dorn says.
And another call.
"Today, I'm taking four special needs cats from St. Augustine to Daytona."
There's little rest for this Dark Knight when lives hang in the balance.
But maybe his road could get a little easier. His Batmobile is actually a "cramped Honda Accord." He recently squeezed four dogs into it for the drive to Vermont.
"The next step for Batman4Paws is hopefully, I can get an RV," he says. "Something that's more comfortable and bigger so I can carry more animals."
Maybe that's where the rest of us come in. There's a GoFundMe campaign. Because when it comes to brightening a shelter animal's life, even the Dark Knight could use a little help.