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Merlin the cat training with humans to save lives

Bengal kitty is helping his humans by being a trusted heat signature during drone search practices

INNISFAIL – Merlin is a non-stop frisky inquisitive cat.

He is a proud handsome four-year-old Bengal, a hybrid kitty breed that is a cross between an Asian leopard and various domestic cats, especially the Egyptian Mau.

And he’s also very intelligent, almost right up there with his environmental scientist human John Smith; a 59-year-old longtime Innisfailian who is starting up his new Savior Inspection Drones company with 26-year-old son Zach.

The new business specializes in aerial and underwater video inspections with an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), which are like an unmanned submersible robot with cameras.

The father and son also want to volunteer their services to help search and rescue organizations find missing people, and that’s where Merlin comes in to shine.

The pair have all the necessary equipment, including drones and a special harness for Merlin.

Cat and humans are now training hard to get their new venture up and running.

On April 13 outside the Innisfail Library/Learning Centre, where Merlin is a growing celebrity, the trio were out and about for practice.

“(Merlin) loves meeting people. He was just at the library this morning seeing the kids and they loved him. You can take him into a hospital he’s so tame,” said John.

The search and rescue training is demanding but that is just fine for Merlin as Bengals are an incredibly active kitty breed. They need copious amounts of activity to maintain and nourish their overall health.

“Because he’s a Bengal he has to be running about six hours a day. We take him out three times a day for two hours or otherwise he would keep us up all night and tear the house apart,” said John.

During training runs father and son just let their kitty take off. John and Zach then try to find Merlin, who may have found a good bush or ravine to hide in.

“That's practise for finding people. We look for him and he’s the target. We search for him with aerial drones,” said John. ““He pretends he's a missing person.

“You search for his heat signature using a thermal camera on the drone, and because he hides in the bush he's really good as a target,” said John. “Whereas dogs, they don't hide. You can’t use dogs. They don’t work.

“It’s really good to practise with your drones, mapping areas and looking for him.”

In the meantime, as humans and cat continue to train to the day when their hard work will pay off with saving lives, Merlin has also become a bit of a treasure hunter.

John said Merlin found an old 15-foot-long gas station sign that has been valued at more than $3,000.

“It was laying down in a field under some bushes and I flipped it up and it was almost brand new, a piece of art from the 1930s,” said John. “He is so hand able. He thinks he is a beagle dog. He does not think he is a cat.”

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