Doug Thron has a drone and a mission: to find and save those animals lost, abandoned and injured after natural disasters the world over.
louisiana dog rescue
Credit: Courtesy of CuriosityStream

Douglas Thron's flashlight lit up the gut-wrenching scene: a brown and white terrier tied to the fender of an SUV with a chain so short it appeared to choke him when he stood.

It was 13 days after hurricane Laura hit Lake Charles, Louisiana, and it looked like the pup hadn't had food or water the entire time. You could easily count his ribs.

Thron is a cinematographer and drone pilot. But the drones he flies aren't the sort that came from a mall kiosk and interrupt your peaceful beach day with the incessant whine of their small motors. The drones he flies cost tens of thousands of dollars and are equipped with infrared and zoom cameras, and powerful spotlights. He uses them to find animals who are missing, abandoned, or injured after natural disasters.

Thron has rescued burned koalas in Australia, horses after California wildfires, and dogs and cats from disasters everywhere. His work is the subject of a new docuseries, Doug to the Rescue, available to stream on CuriosityStream.

In Lake Charles, Thron was working alongside Aja-Nikiya Estro and her animal rescue and disaster relief organization, Compassion Kind. The infrared camera on Thron's drone had spotted a heat signature they thought might be a dog. Thron switched to the standard camera and spotlight and confirmed there was at least one dog near a house destroyed by the hurricane.

As Thron, Estro and her team walked to the scene, they found what Estro described in the show as "a devastating situation."

"You can see the ribs. I mean, he can't even move three inches," Thron says.

Estro took photos and some video to send to the police, she received permission to free the dog immediately. The crew gave him some food, but any time they got close he would growl and snap, lunging against his chain. "Starvation will do things to you," Estro says.

One of her team distracted the pup while Estro released his chain. The change in the dog was immediate. He came right over to Estro, wagging his tail and licking her face while she pet him.

"A dog is such a loving animal," Thron said. Despite all the trauma they've been through, "in a matter of minutes… their tail's wagging, they're licking you and they're just the most forgiving, loving creatures on earth. If you give it love it's going to give you love back."

Estro named the pup Thirteen, because of the 13 days he spent surviving chained with no food or water after the hurricane.

"Sometimes in hurricanes like that, it actually works out for the better for an animal," Thron tells Daily Paws in an interview.

"I wouldn't have been normally flying a drone over there looking for them if there hadn't been a hurricane like that," Thron says. "And without having the drone flying over, they would have never found them. [The dog] would have just been tied to the back end, too weak to bark; just been laying there conserving whatever little ounce of energy he had left."

Thirteen was adopted by Theresa Smith of St. Petersburg, Florida. When Thron and Estro stopped by to check on the pup weeks later, a happy, healthy Thirteen came sprinting out to greet them.

"In a lot of ways, these guys were rescued by hurricane Laura," Estro says in the show. In an appearance on the Rachael Ray Show last month, Thron said he's working to raise funds so that he can acquire some land for a rescue ranch. He wants it to be a place where the animals he saves can be fostered and adopted, as well as house a training facility to train new infrared drone pilots to follow in his footsteps. We can't wait to see his next mission come to life!