UPDATE: After this story was written Icy was found over the weekend.
A dog went missing on Brown Road earlier in January and hasn’t been seen since, but if there’s any pup capable of surviving in winter it’s one named Icy.
There were actually two dogs that went missing from the home of Camilla and Alex Eriksen and their family, but Snowy was found a few days later. When Snowy’s companion wasn’t there, too, a call was made to search for Icy’s heat.
The Eriksens were aware of a Burns Lake company called Airrays Drone Services run by Eddy and Kristina Ray. One of the technological attachments on their aircraft is a thermal imaging camera. The Rays brought it out to scan the wilderness around the Eriksen home, and well beyond it.
“They dug under the fence ,” said Camilla. “My husband was outside with them, and went in to talk for only five minutes with the kids, and the dogs were both gone.”
Both dogs are white, and there was a heavy snowfall at the time, so their tracks were quickly obliterated.
If the factors align, like the animal not hunkering down under branches laden with thick snow, detecting the heat is not difficult. On previous flights, said Eddy, he has been able to spot dogs, horses, deer, “I was even able to spot grouse from about half a kilometre away.”
But there was no sign of Icy.
Part of the problem is the distance that could have been covered in the days since the dog went missing. Snowy was spotted on the side of the road by a passing neighbour in the vicinity of Mulvaney Lake at the eastern end of Brown Road.
“The man who spotted Snowy said he usually travelled another route, but that day he went a different way and it worked out for us that he did,” said Camilla. “People have been asking about it and offering to help. It’s been amazing. It really shows how Burns Lake is a united community. Everybody is helping each other out, here.”
The Rays are doing the drone work for the price of covering their hard costs, no service fees.
“An animal can go a long ways in a few days,” said Eddy. “Poor Icy. We covered a lot of area and we’re at a point where it’s like where do we even look next, now?”
They aren’t giving up. Kristina and Camilla have been driving around and hiking about, snowmobiles have been used, hoping for ground-level clues. Without a hint to fly by, though, it’s an aerial haystack and Icy just a little, white, fluffy needle.
But it’s not like it hasn’t worked out, before.
Eddy has a background in forestry, so his drone work is usually for laying out logging blocks, timber surveys, and he got the heat-seeking camera for thermal home inspections. But he knew, as he got better with the tools, that he could be an asset to search and rescue operations as well, so he was eager to test the technology on animals as he worked his way up to that emergency response level.
He got a call in early December from a couple on Colleymount Road who, like the Eriksens, had a dog bolt into the bush and after three days could not be located. This dog was pulling a small sleigh and still no clue could be found.
The drone zeroed in on the dog’s heat profile in short order. The pinned pooch got the sleigh hung up in thick brush and was impossibly stuck, unable to hunt for food or better shelter. For a dog, it was a sitting duck.
“People have asked me, over the years, which job was your favourite?, and now I have an easy answer. That one,” said Eddy, remembering the emotions and sensations of returning that missing pet back to its family. “When you get a big hug, and see all that excitement, that’s awesome.”
Finding Icy would melt his heart.