Geoff Clinton spent more than 30 years of his life working as an animal control officer and was often part of search and rescue teams to help find lost animals during natural disasters such as fires and mudslides.
When Clinton retired, he volunteered with Orcutt/Santa Maria Lost and Found Pets, a community Facebook group that started in 2014 dedicated to helping fellow residents find their pets. Since then, the group’s grown to about 11,000 individuals, who can post about their lost pets, and people like Clinton help search for the animal for free, he said.
As a certified FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot, Clinton deploys his drone to help find lost pets in large open spaces, like agricultural land or riverbeds.
“When I retired, I was always interested in thermal imaging and what it could do for the industry,” he said. “It would help rescue groups find lost animals not only in times of disaster, but lost and found groups for local areas such as we have.”
As a result, Clinton started a GoFundMe to purchase a DJI Mavic 3 Thermal Drone to further Orcutt/Santa Maria Lost and Found Pets’ goals and potentially make it easier for search parties to find animals, he said. As of March 30, he’s raised about $4,000 of his $8,000 goal. Earlier in his career, thermal drones would have been impossible to get because they cost about $35,000, but as time went on companies started making drones specifically for search and rescue at more affordable prices.
“We find a lot of animals in the agricultural fields because it’s a convenient place to drive out when no one is watching,” Clinton said. “That’s where this technology works best, in wide open spaces.”
Groups will find abandoned animals commonly around the Twitchell Reservoir, in Nipomo, off Highway 166, in the agricultural fields off of Bonita School Road, and around the outskirts of Guadalupe. Thick shrubbery can often make it difficult for Clinton to spot an animal in these areas because they block the drone’s view of the animal, but with thermal capabilities, groups would be able to spot the animal faster, he said.
Clinton added there have been studies done surrounding thermal drone use for search and rescue parties, which found that parties with a thermal drone found a person much faster, causing a lot more organizations to incorporate these devices into their operations.
Thermal drones work best at night, and when the group has known sightings of a particular animal, it would enable the group to develop a specific strategy to locate and recapture the animal.
“Drones use infrared spectrum, capturing the heat signature of the animal and producing an image. If you have an environment that’s 40, 50 degrees and an animal that’s 80, 90 degrees, he’s going to show up like a lightbulb on your screen,” Clinton said.
The FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone is a high resolution drone and can detect a 1- to 2-degree difference and has a capability to relay images from the drone’s screen to a team of two to four people’s phones, he said.
“We had a case in the shelter where a dog escaped from its foster family and we had dozens of volunteers working to locate the dog, and to this day it has not been found. That was the perfect scenario for a thermal drone,” he said. “I want to raise money for a thermal drone because I think it’d be great for our organization and others like C.A.R.E. 4 Paws.”
• The Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, 600 South McClelland St., is extending its weekday hours of operation from noon to 8 p.m. from April 7 to 14 for spring break. The Youth Center will resume its weekday hours of 3:30 to 8 p.m. on April 17. The Youth Center is a safe, supervised setting where teens engage in recreational activities. Its amenities include a game room, an art studio, basketball courts, a computer lab, fitness center, movie room, musical instruments, and a photo booth. It’s also the hub for many popular programs, including Girls Night In, Teen Treks, Teen Trails, the Great Mystery Series, and leadership clubs, such as Full STEAM Ahead and Key Club. Membership is free for teens ages 12 through 18 and those in grades seven through 12. Direct questions to the Recreation and Parks Department at (805) 925-0951, Ext. 2260.
Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].