Sunday Express


- By James Rampton Doug To The Rescue, from Thursday, on curiositys­

IT’S FAIR to say Doug Thron does a job you would be unlikely to find in any Situations Vacant column. A highly skilled aerial cinematogr­apher who used to make nature documentar­ies for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, he now uses his custom-made drone technology to identify and save animals trapped in the aftermath of disasters.

However, his latest challenge has an added twist – he is about to travel to the war zone in Ukraine.

After a natural disaster, power, mobile communicat­ions and public resources are often in short supply.

People can be uprooted and cut off from loved ones. But when so many people are in dire straits, what becomes of the animals left stranded in the devastatio­n? That’s when Doug comes to the rescue.

Travelling the world for the past 28 years, he has helped save numerous animals in the wake of disasters – such as the Australian bushfires, during which an estimated three billion animals died, the cataclysmi­c “Camp Fires” in Paradise, California, and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

His infrared drones are particular­ly effective at night and his presence has been a game-changer in disaster zones across the globe.

“This technology can save so many more animals so much more quickly,” Doug explains.

“It’s one thing to have rescue crews out there but it’s another to have the ability to spot so many more animals and reach them fast.

“When I was in Louisiana after a storm, rescue crews were going up and down the streets trying to listen for two missing dogs, but they weren’t barking.

“Using my drone I found them. They had been chained to a car and left there for almost two weeks – they would definitely have died.

“The drone can fly over, see the dogs chained to the cars and then shine the spotlight – bringing the rescue crews right to them.” Doug, who lives in Miami, says he has always been inclined to run towards danger when others are running in the opposite direction.

However, he freely admits his latest challenge is his toughest yet.

He is going to the heart of the war zone in Ukraine to use his drone to save lost animals. Speaking to the Sunday Express on the eve of leaving for the wartorn country, Doug acknowledg­es he feels nervous.

“The other rescue missions I’ve done don’t really concern me,” he says. “But as the day of my departure approaches there’s definitely some concern about this trip.

“Right now, I’m riding my bike along the warm beaches of Miami and I’m going, ‘OK, why am I doing this mission?’

“It’s paradise right here and I’m going to Ukraine. Everybody’s getting ready to relax over the weekend and I’m getting ready to go into a war zone.there must be a screw loose in my brain.

“Do I ever get scared? No, but Ukraine will probably be different.

“If I talk to you after this trip I may have a different answer.

“I may say, ‘Yes, that was scary as hell, and I’m glad I’m out!’”

He adds: “I’ve always had the

greatest respect for soldiers and my trip is going to be minuscule compared to what they go through. But there is definitely the risk of something happening. That certainly can weigh on your mind. It’s hard to think of anything else.”

YET DOUG feels impelled to visit one of the most perilous places on earth: “I just kept seeing all these animals displaced and people losing pets in Ukraine. I figured that I could make a huge impact and save some animals out there.”

So what motivates him? “I’m driven by my love of animals. I just feel a calling to help out.

“I’d have a hard time just sitting and relaxing on the beaches of Miami knowing that there were animals suffering and that I could have a big effect on their future. The beaches will still be here and, hopefully, I’ll make it back to them!”

But it’s hard to imagine Doug ever relaxing for long on a beach.

The cinematogr­apher, whose work is captured in a new five-part documentar­y released this week entitled Doug To The Rescue, is always on the go.

In the forthcomin­g series, he flies to the Dominican Republic to rescue puppies that have been ditched in a municipal town dump and to Malawi to help protect hyenas and fruit bats.

He is also one of the first in after the tornado that laid waste to great swathes of Kentucky last December. Picking through the shocking devastatio­n wrought by the tornado, which travelled 165 miles across the state at speeds of 190mph, Doug sets about locating lost pets. When he finds a ginger cat which has been missing for a week in the ruins of her house, owner Tina Mcwhorter is beside herself with joy: “We thought for sure she hadn’t made it. I can’t thank you enough.”

Doug reflects: “It’s super heartwarmi­ng when I get to see an animal reunited with its owner.

“For a week Tina didn’t know if her pet was alive but the cat survived a 190mph tornado.

“You wouldn’t think anything could live through that but never bet against a cat!”

In another episode Doug gets emotional because he has a personal connection to a tragedy.

After the “Dixie Fire” ripped through the tiny California­n town of Greenville in just half an hour on August 4 last year, Doug once more entered dangerous terrain in order to save the pets that had been abandoned

He was also deeply affected while surveying the wreckage of one home in the town...

DOUG, WHO adopted a stray dog called Duke, the first animal he rescued after the hurricane in the Bahamas, reveals he often battles his emotions on these missions. “Yes, I frequently have to fight back tears. It’s emotional when you see somebody reunited with an animal they really love.

“After a disaster an animal is skittish and scared. But when it sees its owner it melts back into their arms pretty quickly.”

In these difficult times, Doug’s missions provide people with a welcome message of hope.

“I always stay pretty hopeful. If there is a one per cent chance of something working out, I always say, ‘those are decent enough odds for me – let’s go for it!’

“I think it’s important to tell positive stories in these depressing times. The great thing is, they have a happy ending.

“Given the opportunit­y, most people gravitate towards being loving and kind, and they want to connect.

“My work is a great way of connecting people with animals. It keeps people hopeful and keeps their spirits up.”

Doug To The Rescue also offers hope by highlighti­ng the example animals set us. He explains: “Animals are unique because they give you this unconditio­nal love.

“You can have a dog that’s been chained up to a car for two weeks during a hurricane.

“When you go to rescue it, at first it’s barking and scared and shivering and snarling at you. And then literally in a matter of minutes you free it and you’re holding it. Then its tail starts wagging and it’s licking you.

“I don’t think a human would be that warm and fuzzy if they had been chained to a car during a hurricane for two weeks.

“Sometimes I think dogs have a more highly evolved soul than us.”

Doug clearly takes immense satisfacti­on in his job: “I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful that feeling is when you can bring that little animal back.

“A lot of times the owners have lost everything. Their houses have burned to the ground or been crushed by a hurricane.

“The emotion when victims of a tragedy get their animals back is incredibly moving.

“It gives people a sense of hope after something so devastatin­g. I’m enormously grateful to be a part of that.”

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 ?? Picture: CREDIT COLON MAKES IT CAPS ?? ANIMAL MAGIC: Main image, View from Doug’s drone of tornado devastatio­n in Kentucky; right, showing children in Malawi his kit; left, rescued kitten; top left, Doug rescuing a dog at a dump in the Dominican Republic
Picture: CREDIT COLON MAKES IT CAPS ANIMAL MAGIC: Main image, View from Doug’s drone of tornado devastatio­n in Kentucky; right, showing children in Malawi his kit; left, rescued kitten; top left, Doug rescuing a dog at a dump in the Dominican Republic
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