Buddy, the Slusser family’s Jack Russell terrier, has accumulated a lot of experiences over his 16 years. Now that he can’t hear at all, barely sees, has issues with mobility, and more than a touch of dementia, you would think it’s a good time to retire and look back on a dog life well lived.
But over the weekend, Buddy added to his resume: rescued from a Bedford swamp with help from pet-finding technology.
Al Slusser pulled Buddy from the mud in the conservation wilderness west of Old Stagecoach Road early Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, Slusser reported that the dog is “eating and drinking, with no obvious injuries or other trauma.”
Slusser said he and his wife Kelly Quesada realized that Buddy, who weighs around 16 pounds, was missing on Saturday afternoon from their yard on Sweeney Ridge Road.
“Normally he just doesn’t leave the yard,” he said.
They started searching the area, walking around the block a few times, through the woods between Sweeney Ridge and Old Stagecoach roads, peeking under porches. A friend came over with his dog just to see if there might be a scent to be tracked. Then they started posting on local and statewide lost-pet Facebook pages and websites.
That’s how Sam Aromin found out. Aromin, who lives in Fall River, operates Hawkeye Aerial Systems, which uses state-of-the-art drone technology to locate lost animals.
“He contacted me pretty much immediately after my Facebook posts for a missing dog went up,” Slusser reported.
Aromin had to wait until early Sunday to get drone clearance from the tower at Hanscom Field, following Federal Aviation Administration rules, which limit altitude near an airport to 200 feet. By then, Slusser had a clue. Late Saturday night, he said, his wife heard barking behind the houses on Old Stagecoach. “There was just no way to get in there” in the dark.
There were other reports early Sunday. “That gave us a good search point,” said Slusser.
So Aromin flew the drone over the area – “it’s a pretty amazing setup he has,” Slusser observed.
From the house, they moved the operation closer to the site, and “it took us 15 minutes to spot him. He was stuck in the mud, up to his chest. He was probably there all night.”
Slusser and other helpers, some carrying machetes just in case, set out into the wetlands, through the rain.
“It was pretty thick back there, but we got in,” Slusser said, guided by the Hawkeye drone, equipped with spotlights and a microphone and speakers.
Buddy was maybe 150 feet in the swamp, pretty much stuck in the mire. The bark was more of a cry, Slusser said; “he was pretty muddy.”
The whole episode took about 24 hours.
“With experience, I knew exactly where to look,” said Aromin. “I had to change some settings to pierce through the rain. We had to transition from me being air support to ensuring the safety of the owner and the pet so they would not be tripping and falling.”
Aromin, a twice-deployed Navy veteran, said Monday he has rescued as many as 75 missing pets during the past year or so. He gets most of his calls from referrals.
“My mission is to help others out,” he said, though he does need to charge for his services, as a fully-fitted drone setup is valued at close to $30,000. “And I have to accept that there are going to be mishaps.”
“I needed to find an outlet to keep me grounded, and I fell in love with drones last year,” he said. “I have found what I think is my calling because one case has led to another.” Aromin said he has been recovering from brain surgery, but “it doesn’t hold me back.”
Indeed, right after Sunday’s rescue, Aromin was off to New Hampshire.
Slusser thanked everyone involved with the successful search-and-rescue. He tried to piece together what happened.
“We have an electric fence, but with dementia, it doesn’t register anymore. [Buddy] must have wandered to a neighbor’s house,” and just kept going.
From now on, Buddy’s owner said, “we will keep him on the deck.”