Search and rescue drones for missing dogs

Many people in the drone world might be aware of DJI’s interactive map that plots places all over the world where drones were directly involved in the saving of a human life.

The drone does not have to be a DJI product at all; as long as it proved central to the saving of a life – whether by delivering critical medical implements or locating a person in distress during a search and rescue mission – that act of heroism by the drone will be recorded as yet another reason why the world is better because commercial drones were invented.

However, it could really be unfortunate that there is no interactive map anywhere on the internet to record instances where drone technology was directly involved in the search and rescue of domestic pets; dogs especially.

Because there would be thousands of them.

People love dogs, because dogs make people happy. But dogs get stolen or go astray now and again; and when they do, their owners become sad.

And this is where search and rescue drones become handy.

There was a time once when a drone was used in the search of a dog that had gotten lost somewhere in Johannesburg; but as of now, there is no widespread use of drone in the search of lost pets – at least not at the scale of the United Kingdom, where there is a Facebook group that has helped unite thousands of people with their dogs in the country.

The brains behind this project – called Drones SAR for Lost Dogs in the UK – is Graham Burton from Pontypridd about fifteen kilometres north of Cardiff in Wales, who says he opened the group in 2017 after hearing of a lady in Devon, who was being asked to pay £800 per day by a drone pilot she had contracted to search for her dog.

“I thought then, there’s no way I’m going to allow that,” Burton told Wales Online. “So I contacted a few friends of mine in the Devon area and they went and found the dog and didn’t charge the lady a penny.”

That was how the group came to life. The 66-year-old retired photographer now spends his time running the group of more than 1,700 drone pilots and 1,600 ground searchers.

The group currently has more than 41,500 members.

“I never thought it would take off – excuse the pun. Since launching, I’ve spoken to people from South Africa, New Zealand, America, Canada, Denmark and more. Hopefully people around the world will set up similar groups where drones can be used to help search for missing dogs.”

The drones operate via live stream, where the pilot as well as other members of the team can view live images and the videos can also be saved to be rewatched later to check whether the searchers missed anything during their flight.

The drones are especially useful for covering areas humans cannot get to, such as marshes and cliffs. When they spot a lost dog, rescue plans will then be put in place.

“(We’ve found) well over 2,000 dogs now. We work with a combination of other groups. It’s all about teamwork and the success rate is brilliant.”

But the main thing is that – at least for this particular group – the service is free.

“Everyone does everything from the goodness of their heart,” Burton says. “Nobody earns a penny. I don’t agree with asking people for money from someone’s pain.”

Something which we are sure automatically catapults Burton and his colleagues to the top rungs of the good humans on this earth, nearly at par with the incorruptible Batman – who himself is not human at all, but just a figment of our imagination.

Because, just as the Joker said in the same Batman film (The Dark Knight), if you are really good at something, why would you do it for free?

Burton’s group does accept donations though, and these they funnel towards buying equipment for volunteers. They now have four thermal imaging drones, three thermal imaging scopes for ground searches and eleven traps and ring doorbell cameras each.

Graham explained they had seen a rise in pleas for help over the past year thanks to increase in dog thefts.

He said: “We make the dogs too hot to handle. If we make sure the dog is well known, the thief realises he can’t walk the dog in case he is spotted. They usually give it to a vet or let them loose and roam.”

With a bit of luck, someone on Graham’s team will find the missing dog, get the microchip scanned and the dog will be reunited with its owners.

He said: “It’s a heart-breaking situation when dogs are stolen but we do our best to get them back.”

It’s not only for dogs Burton’s that team uses their expertise; they have also been asked for help in missing persons cases in coordination with the local police.

Last month, he received both a letter from his local MP Beth Winter, and was awarded a Points of Light award by the Prime Minister.


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