Ayrshire Drone Dog Rescue

AM talks to founder, Liz Milligan

by Gill Sherry

What would you do if your dog ran away? Chances are you would chase it and shout its name, your panic levels rising with each hurried stride.

“If you’re out looking for your dog, don’t shout your dog because you’ve got panic in your voice so it will think it’s in trouble and keep running. If you’re going to shout, you need to make it an excited voice. Make it a game, make it play.”

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. As does the rest of Liz Milligan’s advice.

“People need to be aware of what they need to do before their dog goes missing, because they panic and everything goes out of the window. If they can just remember to stop chasing, that’s the most important thing.”

Liz is the founder of Ayrshire Drone Dog Rescue, a voluntary organisation that helps to reunite dog owners with their missing pets. It was the temporary loss of her own dog that led to her wanting to help others.

“About six years ago I lost my lurcher for about five hours. He was a rescue and I can’t even describe what I went through.”

The experience prompted Liz to research what dogs do and how they behave when they go missing.

“I realised that for some reason, I can somehow understand the mind of a missing dog which really does help get them back.”

You only need to look at the ADDR Facebook page to realise how true that is. There are dozens of stories of missing dogs that have been reunited with their owners, thanks to Liz and her team of volunteers. I ask what happens once they are made aware of a lost dog.

“We start a group chat with the rest of the volunteers. We get a poster done… and get a post up on our Facebook page asking people not to shout, chase or approach the dog if it won’t willingly come to them. That’s the most important thing. We have a dialogue with the owner… we look at all the dangers around where the dog is and advise the owner who to call. We try to get them to work with us at every step.”

Surprisingly, one of the first things Liz will ask the owner to do is stop searching.

“With your friends out there, there’s going to be loads of scents so your dog is just going to get confused when it retraces its steps back. Once it goes out of the vicinity, stay at that missing point because your dog is going to return there.”

Many people who use Ayrshire Drone Dog Rescue mistakenly believe that a drone will be launched as soon as their pet is reported missing. However, this is not always the case.

“We wouldn’t put a drone up within the first 48 hours because your dog will return to the missing point or to home within the first 72 hours, if it’s not hurt or chased out of the area. If it’s got on a harness or a collar we would look at possibly putting the drone up because it might be stuck, but in the first 48-72 hours that’s the last thing we would do. The drone is a massive part of what we do but it’s not the first thing we do.”

Listening to the advice given by Liz and her team is essential. In fact, quite often dogs are returned to their owners as a result of advice given over the telephone.

“If they listen to half of what we say, it doesn’t work. They’ve got to listen to everything we say.”

This sometimes poses a challenge when people insist that they know their dog and think they know how it will behave when found.

“If your dog is in fight or flight, it’s probably not going to recognise you, even when you’re up close. Until that dog gets a scent from you, it won’t know you. That’s the only thing it recognises in fight or fight.”
Liz reiterates: “It’s all about knowing what to do. Go to our page, read our posters, make yourself aware before your dog goes missing.”

Sometimes, of course, things don’t go quite as expected. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad news, as Liz explains: “We trapped a dog and when the owner arrived it wasn’t his dog. Turns out she was probably dumped from a nearby puppy farm. We then found out she was pregnant so we fundraised and got mum and pups great homes.”

It’s a heartwarming story but just one of many since ADDR began. Six years after first setting up the organisation, Liz has helped to reunite countless dog owners with their precious pets. Each time, she has gained more experience and understanding of how dogs behave when they are frightened and alone.

“A dog will always act the same way because it goes back to its primal instinct. The only thing it’s looking for is food, shelter and water. That’s it. I’ve learned that each dog may do something different in where they hide because it will depend if it’s a foreign rescue or a domesticated pet here, but they do all tend to eventually do the same thing and they will always follow a path back to the house or back to the missing point.”

The ADDR team consists of ten volunteers and six drone pilots, all of whom have learned something from each of the rescues they’ve been involved with.

“Between us we’ve got a great team and it works. We get dogs home.”

It’s obvious Liz gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction from seeing dogs reunited with their owners but she admits it’s not always easy, particularly now as she recovers from major surgery.

“Normally I’d be juggling a full-time job, and so do the rest of my volunteers, so it’s very difficult at times. Sometimes I’d be up through the night searching for dogs or watching cameras.”

And then there’s the fundraising responsibilities. ADDR is not a registered charity, it’s a not-for-profit organisation made up of a team of dedicated volunteers. There is no charge for the use of its services so donations are always welcome.

“We’ve got a massive outlay… website, software, posters, thermal scopes, binoculars, drones, insurance. People really do have a great service here, there’s nobody else apart from Lanarkshire Trap and Scan. We won’t be here if people can’t support us before their dog goes missing, that’s really important.”

Sometimes, Liz may receive notification of six or seven missing dogs in one week. She also receives calls reporting dogs that have been found, resulting in the challenge of finding their owners. It’s those reunions that mean the most to Liz.

“That’s enough for me,” she says, “that’s why I do it.”

For more information, find Ayrshire Drone Dog Rescue – ADDR on Facebook.