Attorney Jan Trendowski has long been a gearhead.
He worked as a mechanic to help put himself through college and law school, and he's always had a fondness for motorcycles, particularly Harley-Davidsons.
But some accidents had taken him off the road for a time, until two years ago when he turned 50 and felt the need to get back into riding and building motorcycles.
"I just really wanted to get a motorcycle," said Trendowski, whose practice at Trendowski & Allen in Centerbrook, Conn., focuses on personal injury, liquor liability and insurance coverage disputes. "And I really enjoy the custom bikes."
He has rebuilt Harleys for himself and will be working on one for a friend this winter. It hasn't been difficult to find fellow motorcycle enthusiasts in Connecticut.
But the biker group that Trendowski has joined might take some people by surprise.
The clean-cut Trendowski is part of a pack that includes burly, tough-looking riders all hell-bent on one goal -- putting an end to animal cruelty.
The group is known as Bikers Against Animal Cruelty (BAAC) and includes men and women who are serious about motorcycles and helping pets.
"I hate sad animal stories," Trendowski said. "This group does phenomenal things. People's view of bikers is leather, flames and skulls, but they're always doing rides to donate money to a cause."
Trendowski joined the group two years ago. His wife, Liz, had been interested in rescuing abused and abandoned dogs, especially dachshunds, for the past decade, and the couple has 10 rescued dogs currently living at their house.
Through Liz's rescue efforts and Trendowski's biking interests, they came across BAAC, which is based in North Haven, Conn. Trendowksi felt compelled to get involved.
"I had been looking for something good to do, something beyond my own little world," he said. "This is a very nice crew of people."
Now Trendowski is a board member of the BAAC, and he's contacting his law firm clients, such as Toad's Place nightclub in New Haven, Conn., about hosting live music events where a portion of the proceeds go toward BAAC.
Over the past three years, the group has raised more than $90,000 that has gone to animal shelters and to help foster families pay for veterinary bills for abused animals.
One of the latest rescues was a dog that had been left in an abandoned apartment with no food or water. BAAC members voted to name him Chance, and he's now the official mascot of the group, though he remains up for adoption.
INSPIRED BY VICK
Before Bikers Against Animal Cruelty was formed, a small group of biker friends would get together and host fundraiser parties and donate money to local animal shelters in Connecticut. But in 2007, national attention focused on animal cruelty after professional football player Michael Vick was arrested and later imprisoned for his role in running an underground pit bull fighting operation.
The public outcry against animal cruelty led to the formation of BAAC in 2007 as a nonprofit organization.
BAAC does not take in abused animals, but it helps place animals who need foster homes with people who want to care for them. The group works with various animal shelters throughout Connecticut and has a relationship with a group in Florida to help find homes for abused animals. Its members also build and deliver dog houses to people who volunteer to take in animals.
BAAC distributes educational materials about different types of animal abuse and cruelty at various events, such as fall festivals throughout the state and fundraisers the group coordinates.
The next event is a motorcycle ride on Oct. 2 from Phil's Bar and Grill in North Haven to Aunt Chilada's Mexican restaurant in Hamden, where a party follows the ride. The event will raise money and collect pet supplies for animal shelters in the area.
Trendowski also is putting his legal skills to good work.
"Since I've become involved, I've become more interested in legal issues involving animals," he said.
One idea he and the group is working on involves changes to the way animal abusers are punished. Trendowski heard about a judge in Texas who required an animal abuser to pay the costs of the abused animal for the rest of the animal's life, which included food and medical care. Trendowski believes that would be a good addition to simply probation or jail time handed out by a judge.
"That makes the animal more adoptable because the costs are paid, and the animal gets the rehabilitation it needs," he said.
The ability to find animals in need of homes is easy in the Internet age. One of the recent rescues at Trendowski's home was an English pointer found abandoned in North Carolina.
"He was left tied to a tree because he wouldn't hunt," Trendowski said. "So we flew him up here to Connecticut. We take dogs from all different situations."
And BAAC is committed to helping dogs and cats in all situations. Its website (www.bikersagainstanimalcruelty.org) is filled with photos of animals who have found new homes.
"It's wonderful to be able to do things for other people," Trendowski said "and especially for animals."