When Separated From its Owner, A Drone Could be a Dog’s Best Friend

Drones are increasingly well-known for helping first-responders find and rescue lost and missing persons.  But what about lost and missing animals?

Jim Brice, a dog owner in Antwerp, NY, lost track of Shelby, his service dog last month, and grew frantic after several days of intensive searching for his pet.

That’s when he decided to put out a call for assistance.  To his surprise, an unusual stranger appeared at his door:  Chad Tavernia, who owns North Country Drone Search and Recovery based in nearby Malone. offered to help.

Armed with some initial guidance from Brice, Tavernia scanned the larger Watertown area with one of his thermal imaging drones.  It took him just 90 minutes to find Shelby.

Brice, who was overjoyed at being reunited with his friend of 12 years, was amazed at how fast the drone operator found him.

In fact, Tavernia’s solo operation is just one of a handful of companies currently operating nationwide that specialize in animal search-and-rescue operations.

Douglas Thron, a skilled drone flier and world class photographer for National Geographic, first got into the business during an overseas trip with his drone in the Bahamas.  While helping international relief agencies film the aftermath of a natural disaster, Thron noticed dozens of lost and missing dogs, some of them injured, wandering around hungry in search of food and shelter.

On a whim, he decided to put a high-powered scope on one of his drones and within minutes found one dog searching through a huge pile of debris for food.  He’s been conducting animal rescues ever since.

Another champion animal rescuer is Graham Burton, founder of Drone SAR for Lost Dogs UK, who says his group has already rescued and reunited more than 2,750 dogs with their owners.   Last year, Drone SAR received an award from the British House of Lords for its steadfast efforts.

While Tavernia and Thron tend to fly solo, Burton’s built a large team of fliers and ground searchers to facilitate his animal rescue efforts.  His group’s network  includes more 3,000 drone pilots and more than 2,500 ground searchers across the UK and Ireland.

And he’s already become a social media sensation, with more 64,000 followers.  Pet owners regularly contact the group via Facebook or email and ask for support.  Burton’s team identifies drone operators and ground searchers active in the caller’s area and puts them in contact with each other.

“You can cover areas where people can’t walk, cliff faces, or large areas of fields that would normally take hours to search by foot. It can all be done in 20 minutes or half an hour using a drone,” he says.

Tavernia says some searches, even with drones, can require more than a day’s work.  He may need to conduct grid searches of large wooded or snow-covered areas to narrow down the precise location where a missing animal may be lost – or injured.   These are the same techniques used to find lost or missing hikers.

For longer searches, Tavernia carries 8 rechargeable batteries and a 1,000-watt battery generator to allow for continuous drone flying.  Especially in the bitter cold, with an animal’s life on the line, time is of the essence.

Tavernia says his UAV of choice is the DJI Matrice 30T, a top-of-the-line aerial surveillance drone.  He’s equipped the aircraft with high-powered zoom and thermal imaging cameras, which are essential for finding animals in the dark or hidden under thick tree cover.

Tavernia’s rescue of Shelby isn’t his first success.  Two weeks earlier he found two missing puppies.  A month earlier, he found a missing dog in a snow-covered area in Berkshire, Vermont.  It had been missing for 6 days, and its owner feared the worst.

Moved by her plight, Tavernia decided to drive 90 miles to the owner’s home.  It took him just 40 minutes to find the dog.

Tavernia first learned to conduct drone search and rescue missions with the New York State Police.  He retired after 20 years of service and now sees his animal rescue work as a labor of love. He’s begun posting videos of his successful reunions on his Facebook page.   He’s already gained more than 10,000 followers.

“I genuinely enjoy trying to locate people’s pets for them,” he told WWTV last week.

Burton of Drone SAR agrees.  Reuniting owners with their pets is “the best feeling ever,” he says.

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