You don’t have to wear a mask and a costume to be a hero, but sometimes it helps, especially when your costume is reinforced with Kevlar.
Most days, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Henry Allen Jr. is a medical caregiver, but in his alter ego, Culaan, he’s a costumed crime fighter and co-founder of the Maryland Defenders, a local branch of the Skiffytown League of Heroes.
The league is a national organization of men and women who create their own comic book-style hero personas, complete with costumes, and organize events for children.
Many members also work to improve their communities by patrolling the streets, assisting in soup kitchens and food banks, assisting veterans, or in the case of Maryland Defenders, assisting abused, neglected and abandoned animals.
Allen took the name Culaan, loosely based on Irish myths about a legendary hound and hero of Ireland.
Allen’s Culaan costume is black, Kevlar-enhanced Class 3 motocross gear.
That armor has proven necessary, as Allen said he has been attacked by dogs six times, shot once by a former high school friend during a dogfighting raid and stabbed once.
Allen, 41, of Upper Marlboro spoke Nov. 11 at the Oseh Shalom synagogue and school in Laurel, in connection with its student program on heroism.
Allen said his first exposure to the evils of dogfighting came during his military service, when he witnessed dogfighting while serving in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
“It was horrific to me that someone would subject another living creature and make them fight for someone else’s enjoyment,” said Allen, who described himself as a lifelong dog lover.
Allen said he went to his commanding officer and asked if something could be done, even though it was outside their mission, and was given permission to seize the dogs and find new homes for them.
“That experience gave me the ability to take that concept of helping animals overseas and translate it to the United States and to my own community,” Allen said.
Allen joined the Skiffytown League of Heroes in 2007 after being introduced to the organization by his friend, Rio LaCour, a.k.a. The Stormbringer.
“At first I was like, ‘What is this? Skiffytown? It sounds like a kids’ show,” Allen said, “But they turned out to be just the coolest people, trying to make a difference by helping mankind, helping the planet, helping animals, which was something I wanted to do, too.”
In 2008, Allen and LaCour of North East, Md., formed Maryland Defenders.
LaCour, who presently serves as league president, said she has maintained a sanctuary for animals in need for more than 20 years, and she and Allen decided to incorporate their animal rescue efforts into their involvement with Skiffytown.
“It just seemed like the perfect way to combine our mutual interests,” LaCour said.
Allen said he maintains an animal sanctuary at his home and works with local and out-of-state animal groups to foster, rehabilitate and adopt out the rescued dogs as well as other animals in need.
Of the 85 dogs Allen said he has helped rescue, only four were too violent to be rehabilitated and had to be humanely euthanized.
Maryland Defenders’ work is self-funded, Allen said, and does not solicit donations, although he said he sometimes finds gifts of dog food or other items left at his front door.
“This is something I truly believe in,” Allen said. “I cannot save them all, but I can try.”
Allen told the children and adults at Oseh Shalom there are many ways to be a hero.
“If you want to help animals, the homeless, veterans or whoever; give some extra blankets, some food,” he said. “That will make you a hero in their eyes and they will love you for it.”