Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Scariest Mission So Far': Drone Pilot Travels to Ukraine War Zone to Save Pets Left Behind


Doug Thron, 52, lives on a houseboat in Miami, pilots infrared drones and has a soft spot for animals in need.

And that soft spot has led him to the deadliest location yet in the hopes of rescuing pets that got left behind in war-torn Ukraine.

Thron, who hosts his own TV show called “Doug to the Rescue,” has made it his mission to search for animals in areas ravaged by natural disasters using heat-seeking technology and drones. Since June 2, that pursuit has led him to the areas surrounding Kyiv as he searches for domesticated animals who have spent months fending for themselves after their owners died or fled.

Ryan Okrant of ASSERT Drone Animal Rescue has teamed up with Thron, and the two have spent their nights using drones to find animals in the rubble and building skeletons left after Russian attacks, traveling by roads that have already been swept for explosives.

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“This is my scariest mission so far,” Thron told People. “It’s mind-boggling. These towns look like they’ve been ripped apart by a combination of a hurricane and a wildfire.

“We’re going into these buildings looking for animals and are always on the lookout for strings across the stairwells that are tied to grenades [left by the Russian soldiers]. It definitely gets your heart beating pretty fast.

“So many people had to flee so quickly that they weren’t able to take their animals,” Thron continued. “They basically gave them a kiss on the head and said, ‘Sorry, we’ve got to go.'”

The two men have been working with local veterinarians to get care for the animals they find.

In one location, a former apartment complex reduced to charred rubble where 40 people had died, Thron spotted several cats outside and a mother and her kittens inside the eighth-floor shell of the structure.

“We had a feeling there were more kittens,” Thron said. “We went back with food and water and brought the mama and the kitten in a carrier and used them to lure the other kittens out and into a drop trap.”

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“These are people’s pets and most of them are super, super sweet, and warm right up to us the second we get on our knees and put our hands out. I can’t imagine how challenging all this must be for them.

“Dogs don’t like fireworks. Can you imagine how traumatic it is when a whole town gets bombed? It’s gotta be ungodly loud. I’m sure plenty of these animals have broken eardrums.”

Thron has started a GoFundMe to help him continue rescuing animals all around the world. He also keeps fans and followers up to date on his rescues through his Facebook page, and has mentioned in recent posts that the animals they’re rescuing will be in need of homes soon.

While he did call this the “scariest” rescue he’s ever been involved in, it’s clearly still worth the risk to save these frightened, displaced animals.

“I’m not afraid of dying,” he said. “It doesn’t worry me so much. But it’s the thought of becoming a prisoner of war or stepping on a landmine that definitely keeps me from sleeping too well at night.”

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