It’s a scenario pet owners fear, one that can lead to a great deal of stress for an indefinite period of time: their beloved animal companion strays from home and cannot be found.
The uncertainty can be the worst part of all, grounded in fears the pet may have been injured or worse while away from its family’s care. But as technology continues to evolve, so have the methods of limiting such scenarios and reuniting pets with their owners as quickly as possible. For many animal shelters, including St. Charles Parish’s shelter, that technology comes in the form of Finding Rover.
The smartphone app, created by John Polimeno after his own experience with his family’s dog going missing, uses facial recognition technology to identify a dog or cat that has gone missing. People can register their pets using the app and a frontal photo of the animal, while shelters utilizing the program can do the same once an animal is admitted.
From there, through the click of a button, the pet’s owner can search for his lost friend, and within moments may find it matched were it brought into a shelter. The program is free and automatically integrates with shelter software to make the process simple for pet owners to use.
“With 98 percent accuracy, the app can scan your pet’s frontal photo and match to similar pets in participating shelters or finders within 200 miles,” said Dr. Jena Troxler, St. Charles Parish Animal Control Supervisor, noting pet owners are encouraged to check the app twice daily until being reunited with their pet.
Troxler said the St. Charles shelter began using the technology a year ago and said it is still in relatively its infancy as a tool, as the shelter works to spread awareness and get more local residents participating with the program.
“Our adopted shelter residents automatically get profiles and the new owner just links himself to the pet on the app,” Troxler said. “This can have the most amazing impact in disaster situations when humans and pets are displaced. It’s another player to reunite, and permanent identification and current registration of a microchip is still important.”
Utilizing both the app and the microchip in tandem can increase the odds of finding a pet even more significantly. Troxler said the microchip has helped the shelter locate pets that have been found even in other states.
These efforts are result of a problem the shelter doesn’t take lightly: how often does the shelter receive calls inquiring about lost pets?
“Daily,” Troxler replied.
The Finding Rover app wasn’t created overnight, of course. Utilizing facial recognition for animals was a tricky endeavor when the app was simply an idea Polimeno came up with in early in the decade, due to their fur obscuring traditional facial features tracked by recognition tools.
Polimeno found a partner willing to join him in his venture, the University of Utah’s Software Development Center. Polimeno funded research while the center found a way to make the technology fit, ultimately developing an algorithm using machine learning and computer vision to pick up key differentiating features of dogs.
Finding Rover was officially born, and was later expanded to be able to recognize the features of cats as well.
Registration for Finding Rover is free at findingrover.com. To complete the process, one submits a pet’s photo, a few notable details about it and the owner’s name, email address and zip code.
In addition to helping a lost pet find its home, Finding Rover also features dogs and cats that are available for adoption.
You can also view St. Charles Parish Animal Shelter’s found and adoptable pets by visiting the Finding Rover Facebook Widget and on the Finding Rover website.