Category: Flying

The Isle of Mull

A guest post.

With a difference in that the guest author is my son, Alex. Recently Alex and his partner, Lisa, went on a trip to the Isle of Mull. But I will let Alex continue in his own words after I have explained a little more about the island. And where better to start than with the opening paragraphs of an article on the Isle of Mull from Wikipedia.

The Isle of Mull[6] (Scottish Gaelic An t-Eilean Muileachpronounced [ən ‘tjelan ˈmuləx]) or just Mull (English and Scots[mʌl]Scottish GaelicMuile[ˈmulə] (listen)) is the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides (after Skye) and lies off the west coast of Scotland in the council area of Argyll and Bute. Covering 875.35 square kilometres (338 sq mi), Mull is the fourth-largest island in Scotland – and also in the United Kingdom as a whole.

The island’s 2020 population was estimated at 3,000.[7] In the 2011 census, the usual resident population was 2,800.[2] In 2001, it was 2,667.[8] (In the summer, these numbers are augmented by an influx of many tourists.) Much of the year-round population lives in colourful Tobermory, the island’s capital, and, until 1973, its only burgh.

There are two distilleries on the island: the Tobermory distillery (formerly called Ledaig), which is Mull’s only producer of single malt Scotch whisky;[9] and another one located in the vicinity of Tiroran, which produces Whitetail Gin (having opened in 2019, it was the island’s first new distillery in 220 years). The isle is host to numerous sports competitions, notably the annual Highland Games competition, which is held in July. It also has at least four castles, including the towering keep of Moy Castle. A much older stone circle lies beside Lochbuie, on the south coast.

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This is now from Alex:

We decided to go to the Isle of Mull after reading about the amazing wildlife it has to offer. It’s famous for its white tailed eagles, which are the largest eagle in the U.K. and fourth largest in the world, with an average wingspan of 7-8ft and a perched height of 1m. After securing a place on a Mullcharters.com eagle photography boat trip, we waited with excitement as the boat left the small harbour at Ulva ferry in force 5 winds and intermittent rain showers, cruising out of the harbour, we where very lucky to spot an Otter swimming along.

On reaching Loch Na Keal, we where told to keep an eye out for an eagle approaching, they apparently recognise the boat from around 1-2 miles away and know that it offers them an opportunity to get some free fish! It wasn’t long before looming out of the distance, a white tailed eagle appeared and started circling the boat, one of the boats crew told us he was going to throw a fish out and exactly where he was throwing it, so we could aim our cameras in that direction, we where treated to the amazing spectacle of an adult white tailed eagle swooping down to collect its fish, which was about 20-30ft away. This enabled us to get some excellent pictures of the eagle picking up its fish on numerous occasions, we saw at least six different birds on the trip and at one point had two pairs of eagles overhead the boat. Even with the challenging conditions, we all managed to get some excellent photos, it’s just a shame we didn’t get any sun to really show the eagles colours off.

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To round off these wonderful photographs, here are two of an otter. They are notoriously difficult to photograph.

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What a wonderful journey for Alex and Lisa. The camera was a Panasonic Lumix G85 with Leica 100-400 lens.

The Wise One

Fond memories of June, 2007.

I have been trying to tidy up my office these last few days and came across a tribute that I wrote for Pharaoh in 2007. I flew out to California in June, 2007 and stayed with Dan Gomez and, quite by chance, Suzanne, Dan’s sister, called by and invited me to stay with her and her husband, Don, in Mexico. I flew from Los Angeles to Hermosillo on the 14th December, 2007. That was where Jean and I met for the first time!

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Pharaoh

June 3rd, 2003 – June 19th, 2017

Just being a dog!

I am your dog and have something I would love to whisper in your ear. I know that you humans lead very busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise, some have to do this alone. It always seems like you are running here and there, often too fast, never noticing the truly grand things in life.

Look down at me now. While you sit at your computer. See the way my dark, brown eyes look at yours.

You smile at me. I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a single moment of your time? That is all I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes, to be with me.

So many times you are saddened by others of my kind passing on. Sometimes we die young and, oh, so quickly, so suddenly that it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes we age slowly before your eyes that you may not even seem to know until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract-clouded eyes. Still the love is always there even when we must take that last long sleep dreaming of running free in a distant, open land.

I may not be here tomorrow. I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the water from your eyes that humans have when grief fills their souls and you will mourn the loss of just one more day with me. Because I love you so, this future sorrow even now touches my spirit and grieves me. I read you in so many ways that you cannot even start to contemplate.

We have now together. So come and sit next to me here on the floor and look deep into my eyes. What do you see? Do you see how if you look deeply at me as we talk, you and I, heart to heart. Come not to me as my owner but as a living soul. Stroke my fur and let us look deep into the other’s eyes and talk with our hearts.

I may tell you something about the fun of working the scents in the woods where you and I go. Or I may tell you something profound about myself or how we dogs see life in general. I know you decided to have me in your life because you wanted a soul to share things with. I know how much you have cared for me and always stood up for me even when others have been against me. I know how hard you have worked to help me be the teacher that I was born to be. That gift from you has been very precious to me. I know too that you have been through troubled times and I have been there to guard you, to protect you, and to always be there for you. I am very different to you but here I am. I am a dog but just as alive as you.

I feel emotion. I feel physical senses. I can revel in the differences of our spirits and souls. I do not think of you as a dog on two feet; I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.

So come and sit with me. Enter my world and let time slow down if only for a few minutes. Look deep into me eyes and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow but do have now.

(Written on the 14th September, 2007 to reflect the special relationship that I have with me and my 4-year-old German Shepherd.)

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I first got Pharaoh as a puppy from a breeder. When he was sufficiently old to start training I learnt that he was a beta dog. Let me explain. In a dog pack there are three dogs with status. The first is always a female and she is the pack leader, or alpha dog. The alpha has first pick of the male dogs as a mate. The second-in-command is the beta dog and is always a male. The beta dog is to keep control and break up fights and squabbles. The third dog, either gender, is the omega dog or the clown dog and its role is to keep the pack happy.

The training was suitably modified and Pharaoh quickly became a perfect friend to me.

On the beach in Devon

Taken near the end of Pharaoh’s life.

So you can see that the above tribute to Pharaoh makes more sense. Especially as on the 20th December, 2006, the 50th anniversary of my father’s death, when I had turned 12 on November 8th 1956, my then wife walked out on me.

Pharaoh was a huge comfort to me at that time. I wasn’t to know then that on the 14th December, nearly a year later, I was to meet the woman of my life. Then in 2008 I flew out to Mexico with Pharaoh to start the most beautiful relationship I have ever had. Pharaoh died in June, 2017.

I still miss him badly. But that, dear folks, is life!

Picture Parade Four Hundred and Three

A rare treat

The following photographs were sent to me by Jess Anderson. But first here is the story:

For years, photographer Tanja Brandt has made it her mission to capture magnificent photos of animals and wildlife and has drawn accolades in the German and international photography world with her heart-warming animal portraits.

Recently, the German artist found a new challenge when she photographed the unique bond between two unlikely friends: Ingo, a Belgian Shepherd, and Poldi (Napoleon), a one-year-old owlet. 

The owlet and canine have a special protector-protected relationship. Their affection toward each other couldn’t be any more evident. Ingo lovingly guards Poldi, who apparently doesn’t know how to live free.

The owlet hatched two days after his six brothers and sisters, therefore, has always been very vulnerable due to his small size. They respect each other and they can read each other, says the photographer.

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These photographs are truly unique. Plus they are astoundingly beautiful.

Part Two of the Spitfire and dogs!

To be honest this is more about the Spitfire! The Spitfire SX336.

Raymond was working on the design of his dog tags and to nail stuff about the way to make them, the material thickness, how to work with it (2MM thick brass) and how to stop them failing, when he turned to a contact he had who is a Spitfire Engineer. At that point Ian, the contact, was up the road from Hertfordshire at The Shuttleworth Collection, getting AR501 back in the air.

However, mid-2019 he moved across the airfield to Kennet Aviation. That’s the home of Spitfire XVII.

At that point Raymond was still pestering for help with a fair few aspects of the manufacturing, from working with the five-ton fly-press that was recommended (from a closed aircraft factory south of Birmingham) to using high-speed polishing tools, but – above all – the position of the hole in relation to the edge of the tag, which is the same distance rivets are from the edge of the wing in a Spitfire. 

In return, Raymond offered to build a few websites, one for Kennet Engineering and one for Kennet Aviation. Both the same company really, the Engineering one to try and get more work for a few huge and expensive CNC machines they’ve recently acquired to make spitfire parts they couldn’t get hold of. 

Anyway, it was when researching regarding the Spitfire that he, Raymond, came across my Spitfire content and obviously noticed the title of the website he was looking at: LearningFromDogs.com, saw I had a tremendous-looking book and thought ‘hang on a minute!’ this is all too much of a coincidence, he must say hello AND introduce me (Paul) to the SX336.

So Raymond finally said ‘hello’ and let me know there is indeed another Spitfire still flying somewhere in the world.

Here is an extract from that Shuttleworth website:

At approximately 3pm on Tuesday 25 April 2017 The Shuttleworth Collection’s Spitfire under restoration fired into life for the first time in 12 years.

A first stage engine run took place on the airfield with volunteers who have been working on the project watching with fingers crossed. The Spitfire has recently been fitted with new propeller and spinner, with testing on all systems from hydraulics, electrical, coolant and air being undertaken in the engineer workshop where visitors have been able to follow the project’s progress.

Project engineer Ian Laraman expressed his relief that all had gone to plan, saying, “With any engine being tested for the first time you always hope it will run smoothly, and happily today the Spitfire’s first engine run couldn’t have gone any better. Higher power runs will now follow, which will give us a better indication of how close we are to flight testing, but for now hearing this aircraft powered up again after all the work that’s gone into it has just been fantastic!”

The coolant systems will now be flushed out, and checks carried out on the oil filters in advance of further testing of the Spitfire’s 1,440hp Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engine in the next fortnight. To follow the progress of AR501 as it moves toward the end of its restoration come along to see the aircraft in the engineering hangar or follow The Collection’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

Here is a photograph of Spitfire SX336 from the Kennet Aircraft Collection website.

Seafire FXVII, SX336, G-KASX, acquired in 2001 and put on the Civil Register by Kennet Aviation in 2006.

A real blast from the past!

I will finish the post be repeating the photograph that Raymond took at the Eastbourne Air Show.

Lulu loved an air show, going to several with us over the years. Here she is at Eastbourne air show, enjoying the Lancaster Bomber and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. 

The Seafire Spitfire and dogs!

Ray offers us a guest post.

As can happen from time to time, I was contacted by Ray Dunthorne in England. He very kindly said that he had been following Learning from Dogs for a while and also was aware of my previous interest in flying.

So I emailed Ray saying that I would love to publish his account as a guest post and lo and behold in came the following story.

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The Story of Lulu

Ah hello again, I’ll try ever so hard not to give you my full life story, but just stuff you might find interesting and relevant, but can’t promise to get the balance right! 

Willows Activity Farm St Albans 

My adult dog journey began with Lulu, 15 years ago, but the seed was sown some 5 years earlier at a city farm. We’d gone with the then middle-born five-year-old for his birthday party. The shepherd who did herding demonstrations was over from New Zealand and had two dogs who’d just had a litter of puppies, which we were shown. We’d never heard of the New Zealand Huntaway, it was described as a combination of German Shepherd, Border Collie and Labrador, with a few other breeds thrown in for good measure. 

They’d been consistently bred in, yes, you guessed it, New Zealand for over 100 years, specifically to help move large herds of sheep or cattle over long distances. The agile New Zealand Huntaway became known for its ability to move across packed, penned herds by leaping from the back of one sheep to another. Its loud LOUD bark was also required, as if not busy barking to get cattle or sheep moving, the Huntaway would be sent after a sheep or lamb that had strayed out of sight, hold it down (I don’t know how) and BARK so the shepherd could locate the unruly pair. 

Little thought was given to the New Zealand Huntaway for a few years, when – on the other side of divorce – my then ex-wife and I decided to get a dog to raise collaboratively, to keep the disparate family united in some way. Divorce-wise, it wasn’t so amicable initially, as these things usually aren’t, but soon settled down with the three growing boys being the priority. 

Lime End Farm, Sussex

Of course we couldn’t agree on the type of dog. I’d always wanted a German Shepherd, madame a Border Collie and a Labrador was a popular choice with Stanley, Arthur and Sidney (the aforementioned three boys). I bet you can tell where this is going. Yes, I remembered the New Zealand Huntaway. In 2006, it was a lot harder to find a litter in the UK than it is now, but I did. Down on a farm in Sussex. Lulu’s mum and dad were also over from New Zealand with a shepherd, this one herding cattle at Lime End Dairy Farm. 

Lime End is in Herstmonceux, East Sussex, which is as Olde English countryside as it sounds, with a castle and an annual Medieval festival to complete the picture.

As soon as we arrived in the classic farm yard, all the puppies bumbled out to say hello, emerging three at a time from under an old caravan where they’d been sheltering from the sun. Their dad, Lord Toro was tied to a nearby barn, doing some general barking ‘he’s frightened of the puppies’ the lady told us. The nine puppies all toppled about us for a few minutes, then all rushed off to find dinner. All except one.

Eight week old Lulu came back with me, Sidney and Helen, my new girlfriend at the time, who I’d charmingly had to borrow the £300 needed to secure Lulu from. It was a four or five hour round trip for the three of us, four including Lulu. A bonding opportunity all round.

I always remember that – to add to the idyllic Sussex farm scene, as if it wasn’t enough like a scene from a film Hugh Grant drives a Mini in – just as we were leaving, an old barn door got pushed open from the inside and a litter of Border Collie puppies and their mum and dad ran out, to say hello to the remaining Huntaways and good bye to us.

Best Laid Plans

The wisdom of bringing that hard-working herding dog into two separate St Albans houses didn’t cross my mind. It probably should have, especially as my ‘house’ was a rented Maisonette, no dogs aloud. The theory was Lulu would be at the children’s house in the week, mine along with the children at the weekends. It didn’t turn out like that.

After a few months both me and my ex-wife got short contracts that meant heading off to work in an office for the day. Far from ideal, but no money at that point meant no choice. At least it was only temporary. Lulu would have been about six months old by then and absolutely should not have been left alone FOR A SECOND.

The office was just 15 minutes away (PC World, Maylands, Hemel Hempstead). I did manage to pop back at lunchtime most days and a child would pop round a few hours later after school. New Zealand Huntaways are like any puppy only more so. They need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, or else you will pay.

A novice dog guardian then, I learned everything the hard way. Before her first birthday, Lulu had removed the floor covering in the kitchen and the lounge. She’d moved a large old cathode ray TV across the room, knocked bookshelves over and generally done over £1,000 of damage. I know it was that much because I got a bill from the landlord. I paid. 

What dogs do

I will cut to the end here. That was in the first year of Lulu’s life.

The contract I mentioned was my first proper BIG company for the digital stuff I was doing, without it I wouldn’t have been able to have the career I’ve had, which started late as I accidentally tried to be a musician for ten years. Not too successfully. That doesn’t matter though.

The 14 years has gone by and even Sidney, who was about five years old when he came with us to East Sussex to meet Lulu, has gone off to university, the older two long-since moved away, to Nottingham and London respectively, leaving me, Lulu and my Helen, that new girlfriend who’d come to Sussex with us on that early date, who moved in a year or so later and is still here. 

What Lulu did was tie us all together. Yes, she was a nightmare initially. Yes, she would run away, out of sight chasing imaginary deer, for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. Yes, she’d bark at everything, constantly herding the children when they were small, stopping them from fighting among each other as they got bigger, becoming more and more generally in control and charming with each year. Almost without us noticing. All of a sudden, she was one of us. Not a pet, not a ‘furry friend’, not even a dog really.

She could sense when someone was ill or in distress and would attend accordingly. She loved small children and even when in a fierce mood, if a small child the same size as her approached, she would sit down and raise her head waiting for a pair of tiny arms to be thrown around her. It had all just got normal for us. Pretty much every time when we were out with her, she’d do something that would further add to our respect for her understanding of what’s going on. She WAS one of us. 

Lulu loved an air show, going to several with us over the years. Here she is at Eastbourne air show, enjoying the Lancaster Bomber and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. 

Now it’s all gone

It’s only when Lulu was finally gone I noticed everything else that’s passed too. All that time, pretty much my entire career, moving from acrimoniously divorced to getting along just fine and concentrating on giving the three boys as good a start as we could manage.  The three boys no longer the children they were when Lulu was working out her role in the family, now all long-since scarpered and working harder than I ever have. 

My career is pretty much done too. I’m finding it harder to get new contracts or jobs in digital. ‘What are you doing working in digital? I thought that was a young man’s game’ one marketing director interviewing me for a dull digital role I didn’t want tactfully said, almost ten years ago too. I won’t say where, for reasons of professional discretion (David Lloyd Leisure, Hatfield, Monday 4th March 2013)

When I was working from home and madame, who I now call Mrs Tagmaster, was coming home from London, me and Lulu would go and pick her up. I trained Lulu to sit in the middle of the station and wait for Mrs Tagmaster for as long as 10 minutes, which meant several packed commuter trains unloaded past her. I’d hide out of sight, watching to see how many pats on the head she got. Usually several.

Lulu’s Legacy is Ten Year Tags

Phew, we’re getting up to date at last. Lulu lost dog name tags like it was something she was born to do. Sometimes in a few months, sometimes in a few days. We got through dozens. I’m a bit slow on the uptake, it took me a while to work out the dog name tags on the market just might not be up to the job.

It took about a year of fact-finding, market assessment and trying to work out how to make a better dog name tag before I was ready to start planning the equipment we needed. Having wasted months liaising with companies in China to get the tags made in volume, I gave up on that idea to both keep our carbon footprint down AND have more control over any supply chain and not have to worry about any one critical supplier. 

With over 9 million dogs in the UK alone, there’s a good sized market. Research quickly revealed this ubiquitous, low price point product has largely been ignored, especially digitally. Consequently many competitors are getting away with minimal product quality and poor customer experience (I’ll come back to this).  This surprised me, as not many products pretty much anyone can manufacture are actually required by law in the UK courtesy of a stupidly out of date Dog Tag Law

I pretty much, at least subliminally, thank Lulu for every tag I press out and when it’s a busy day that started at 6 am and is only drawing to a close with a 6pm trip to the sorting office with a sack of 50 or more orders, I’m ever so grateful to Lulu, as without her showing us the flaws in all those substandard products over the years, patiently waiting until Raymond here got the hint, we probably wouldn’t be coping at all right now. Lulu is still looking after us.

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Thank you, Ray.

This is such a delightful story. So much so that I am going to post another story for Saturday. Namely, a short article, broadly written by Ray, and featuring the Spitfire.

Ray’s company Ten Year Tags is linked to Ray’s website.

The Old and the New

This caught my eye!

Humans are great inventors! Indeed, a better way to describe H. sapiens ever since we separated from the chimpanzees, some 5 or 6 million years ago, is to describe us as explorers both outwards and inwards constantly in search for new worlds and new insights into meaning.

Thus this naturally caught me eye as Doug Thron uses a modern device, a drone, to search for animals in distress, a very ancient behaviour!

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Drone Pilot Rescues Animals After Natural Disasters

Doug Thron goes to devastated areas to save pets and wildlife.

By Mary Jo DiLonardo

Mary Jo DiLonardo

Published June 9, 2021.

Doug Thron with Duke, a dog he rescued after California wildfires.”Doug to the Rescue”

For nearly three decades, seaplane and drone pilot Doug Thron has been a professional photographer and cinematographer, primarily for nature shows and magazines. A few years ago he was using his drone to film the devastation left behind after wildfires in California when he teamed up with rescuers to help find lost pets and reunite them with their owners.

A long-time animal lover and environmentalist, Thron realized he could combine those passions, using his aerial skills. He now travels wherever there is need, using his drone to help communities dealing with the destruction after natural disasters.

Thron is featured in a six-part documentary series “Doug to the Rescue”streaming on CuriosityStream beginning June 10.

He talked to Treehugger about his first animal rescues, his drones, and some of the challenges he’s faced.

Treehugger: Which came first: the animal rescue work or the drone?

Dough Thron: I was using drones for filming for TV shows, commercials, and real estate clients before doing the animal rescue work. 

Were you involved in animal rescue and realized that your drone work could come in handy? 

Definitely. I was doing animal rescue work after the wildfires in Paradise, California. I was working with an expert cat rescuer named Shannon Jay, and I saw him using an infrared scope at night to help find the cats. We talked about how incredible it would be to put one on a drone and when the opportunity came up about 10 months later in the Bahamas after the category 5 Hurricane Dorian, that’s what I did and it worked incredibly.

I had raised orphaned baby animals as a kid and worked with animals such as possums, raccoons, squirrels, beavers, and even mountain lions. I’ve been using drones since 2013 for cinematography, so I’ve used them for quite a while before I got involved in the actual rescuing of animals with drones.

Duke in the Bahamas.Doug Thron / “Doug to the Rescue”

What was your first big rescue using a drone?

My first big rescue using a drone was in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. I was there helping to deliver aid and film the destruction when I spotted a dog roaming around the mountains of debris. He obviously hadn’t had any water or much food for days. He was really apprehensive at first, but warmed up over the course of the day, as I just sat with him. Dog food and water helped! The next day, some animal rescuers came with me to get him. He’s such an incredible dog, and meant so much to me, so I adopted him and named him Duke after a sign I’d seen where I found him.

Where are some of the places you’ve gone to help stranded animals? 

The Bahamas, Australia, Oregon, California, and Louisiana.

Thron with a rescued koala.”Doug to the Rescue”

What were some of the most challenging circumstances?

In Australia, it was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them. On almost all these rescues, Australia and everywhere else, it’s countless long hours of work—generally about 20 hours a day—which can certainly wear you down day after day.

What is it like when you spot an animal in an area of devastation where there is no other sign of life? 

It’s great to be able to rescue these animals so much more efficiently and faster and, in many cases, find animals that never would have been found.  It’s different everywhere I go—finding animals when there aren’t any others alive nearby is always really hard. But in places like Louisiana, where I was searching in so many neighborhoods, it gives you a feeling of hope when you find a cat or dog, knowing it was someone’s pet. 

In other places, like Australia, I’d be covering dozens of miles a night, sometimes and only finding an occasional animal. It’s really sad because you realize how many thousands of animals didn’t make it. It’s also really hard to see how fires and other natural disasters as a result of climate change are taking out the last patches of unentered habitat and endangered animals.

A dog rescued in Louisiana.”Doug to the Rescue”

How heart-wrenching can it be?

It can be really heart-wrenching to find animals that are severely wounded, but it’s wonderful to be able to save them. 

How euphoric is it when you make a great save?

It’s awesome to be able to save people’s cats and dogs because frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal’s sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death.

Thron with his drone.”Doug to the Rescue”

What is your drone like?

The Matrice 210 V2 are the drones I use with an infrared camera, spotlight, and 180x zoom lens. The combination of using those three attachments for animal rescue has never been done before.

How much time do you spend doing animal rescue work? What else do you do?

The rescue work is pretty continuous for 9 to 10 months during the fire and hurricane seasons. After that, there are occasional lost pets to be found.

What else do you want to accomplish?

I hope to make using infrared drones for animal rescue as popular as helicopters are for rescuing people after a natural disaster. So many more animals can be saved when you can find them so much faster and find ones that never would have been found on foot because there is just too much area to cover.

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This account makes me want to choke up. Doug is clearly used to being a professional photographer and, also, works with others in the field of animal rescue. But this story is about Doug and he is engaged with animal rescue with his heart as well as his head!

Doug has been reported widely I am delighted to say and there’s a YouTube video that you can watch.

It doesn’t get any better than that!

More serendipity

The continuing story of Alfie.

Stop Press

Alfie has had his operation and all is well! I don’t know more than that at the moment but I do want to share the journey from New York to Minneapolis with you. Because it is such a story of love and devotion.

(And I have just heard that Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, has died – oh, dear.)

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New York to Minneapolis road trip

April 5, 2021 By Mr Coyne

The week we travelled to the US, the East Coast was experiencing one of its winter storms. Snow threatening our progress overland to our destination. With this in mind, we worked with James Gallagher at Enterprise close to Westhampton Private Airport near Maine just outside NY, we arranged for a Jeep Gladiator to be waiting on the tarmac for us. The plan was to land, walk down the steps and into the Jeep, then drive around 20 hours across 9 States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) taking it in turns, and stopping only when tiredness took hold to sleep. When I say drive around 20 hours, that’s just driving, not stopping to fuel, use a bathroom, eat, rest. Over 1,300 miles. A mammoth task.

At this point I’d already not slept in almost 24 hours

The plan hit the rocks as the jet approached Westhampton and were told the runway closed due to snow. We were diverted to JFK, and then Ubëred two hours back to our original airport. We could have tried to get a four wheel drive from JFK but we already knew getting something in the middle of a bad storm would be near impossible. Trying to fly internally from JFK to Minneapolis was off the table too as we had bought a lot of luggage with us, which we intended to leave in the US. Trying to get this through JFK, with all of this and a dog, a dog that potentially could have been turned away at the gate for being too big, was not worth trying to modify our plan.

Somehow our route through the Bronx is the Mayor of London’s fault

Snow on the ground we got our Jeep, and just had James had said when he sourced it for us – it looked unstoppable. He’d kindly shovelled out most of the snow from the pick-up bed. We headed out through rush hour NYC traffic towards Minnesota following the quickest route on Google Maps. Surprisingly through the Bronx. We made it through the other side and eventually stopped somewhere on the outskirts in search of a toilet and food. A Gladiator sits high off the ground, and we were already tired. As we pulled up outside a potential watering hole Renée opened the door and fell out, hitting the ground audibly so. Alfie was in her arms but had the foresight to recognise trouble and jump to safety. We went inside, one of us limping, to check ourselves over and eat. Luckily just bruising; limbs and pride. We were there a couple of hours, much longer than we intended, but the food and rest needed. It was a big, clean hotel and would have been a good place to stop, at the expense of making the next day even harder. We pushed on. Before doing so I looked at Google maps and realised I’d made a schoolboy error. Living in London and owning old cars is a constant maze avoiding paying the Congestion Charge and ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone). My phone was still set to avoid these tolls, hence our route through the the centre on New York. Worse, the fastest route would now see us backtrack some of the way we’d just driven.

Enjoying a meal after avoiding disaster falling from the truck

The Gladiator proved its worth as the elevation climbed and snowfall increased. We kept going until tiredness eventually became too dangerous to ignore and we stopped somewhere, somewhere being my best guess at where as I was so tired. A room at a Holiday Inn. Alfie making friends with the front desk saw the $80 dog fee waved. We didn’t sleep long, maybe three hours and returned to the Jeep early around sunrise. Throughout the entire trip Alfie had sat up front on Renée’s lap as the rear seats of our crew cab style truck full of luggage (the pick up bed empty so our stuff remained dry and safe). I’d read that these Jeeps were not great over long distances, and my previous longest time in one, a Rubicon, was between Fargo and Minneapolis on roads closed due to snow. It was cold and as a passenger I got leg ache. From the driver’s seat it wasn’t too bad. I’m sure most people buy slab sided trucks like this, original Land Rover Defenders and G Wagons simply because they look good, but there is no denying when the conditions get tough they are incredibly capable. Well, maybe not the G Wagon as that’s simply a fashion accessory.

Moments before a face plant. Ouch

“Watching a sleeping poorly dog, all of us crammed up front with the heater blowing full pelt to keep warm, hour after hour, made me question my original judgement of travelling this way

Watching Alfred, a poorly dog, asleep on Renée’s lap, all of us crammed up front with the heater blowing full pelt to keep warm, hour after hour, made me question my original judgement of travelling this way. My thinking was to have Alfred in the air for the minimum time and then get him the rest of the way by road where he would not be squashed in a bag, could go pee whenever he needed, and I could deal easily with any seizures. The whole private jet decision happened very fast and I hadn’t really adjusted to the revised plan. Also the plan had been to land at Westhampton, not JFK where we could have easily boarded a domestic flight to Minneapolis. Hindsight always great, and beating yourself up over something already done when tired completely pointless. The important think was we were in the USA, and on our way to get Alfred the help he needed. Given the obstacles in our way just two days ago we really should be patting ourselves n the back.

Give us all ya got. Nothing could stop the Gladiator

Eventually, around three hours out from our destination, I could drive no more and we stopped in one of the fantastic US rest areas. These places are free from gas stations, usually have vending machines, and clean toilet facilities. They feel safe and good places to stop for a snooze. It was cold though, with a lot of snow and ice on the ground. We slept a while with the engine running and heater keeping us warm. When it is this cold, global warming is the last thing on your agenda.

Errrr, drive through donuts? I LOVE America guys
Why is there a sportsman on this packaging? Is it a race to get diabetes?

“We slept a while with the engine running and heater keeping us warm. When it is this cold, global warming is the last thing on your agenda.

I’ve been in this situation before. Driving while tired is super dangerous. I suspect more so than alcohol (within reason) and up there with texting. As a pilot once said over the tannoy of a flight to Bahrain years ago: better to get there late than not at all. But before long, Renée woke me and wanted to carry on. I managed the next hour before handing over the driving to her to get us the rest of the way. The two of us had dug really deep to make it.

Not the most economical, but fuel is cheap so we don’t care

Arriving at the Canopy in Minneapolis was a welcome sight. Alfred’s surgery was scheduled 10 days from now but we had an option to bring it forward should he deteriorate rapidly. We were where we needed to be. A huge victory and I could literally feel the stress lifting from me. 

Of course, we were only actually part way there, the real challenge was to come.

ooOOoo

And of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, little Alfie has arrived in Minneapolis and has had his operation. In due coarse I will bring you the latest.