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App helps owners find lost pets
Finding Rover
Founder and CEO John Polimeno shows how the Finding Rover app works in Modesto. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The multitude of posters stapled or taped to poles advertising for the return of lost cats and dogs may have just become obsolete now that Finding Rover app and website has been introduced locally.

Its founder says over 5,000 lost pets have been reunited with their owner because of Finding Rover.

Algorithms and computer technology now allows a person to check to see if their missing pet has been found or locked up in a kennel at the local animal shelter. It’s as easy as downloading the free Finding Rover app on a smart phone or visiting their website and uploading photos of the missing pet’s face. Facial recognition technology checks a data base at the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency’s Thomas Mayfield Center on Crowslanding Road.

Finding Rover also allows anyone who finds a loose dog or cat to take a photo of it and upload it to check if it’s missing.

The creators of Finding Rover were in downtown Modesto last week to explain how the program works now that they’ve partnered with the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency which handles animal control services in Ceres, the county and partner cities Hughson, Waterford and Patterson. Finding Rover has also partnered with over 400 shelters and rescues across the country.

The Finding Rover website also allows a person to see their choice of shelter pets available for adoption based on any photograph of a cat or dog uploaded. The tool is particularly useful for anyone who has lost a pet to death and wants to find a similar looking pet as a replacement.

Annette Patton, director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, said every dog and cat entering the shelter in Ceres is registered on Finding Rover. Users may search the shelter and surrounding areas from their smartphone or computer to find their missing pet, a neighbor’s missing pet, the family of a found pet or search for adoptable pets.

Founder and CEO John Polimeno said a lot of people are amazed that facial recognition can identify animal faces despite the belief that many dogs and cats look the same. In fact, Polimeno said pet faces are more different than human faces.

“The algorithms are just looking for specific areas in face,” said Polimeno. “Inside the nose there’s unique areas in the eyes, the dimensional area between them, the hair, it’s pretty amazing.”

Polimeno said his company funded a study with two computer scientists at the University of Utah for over a year to help develop the technology to distinguish one dog or cat from another with 98 percent accuracy.

“This is counterintuitive,” he said. “The more similar a face is the easier it is to identify. I thought this was crazy.”

He said he got the door shut on him by major corporations dealing with facial recognition software until he stuck upon the software development center in Utah.

“It works pretty well – it’s pretty amazing,” said Finding Rover Chief Operating Officer Mark Marrello.

Every pet that leaves the shelter through reunion or adoption, may remain protected on Finding Rover when the pet owner registers with the same email address the shelter has on file. If that dog or cat ever gets lost, the record will already be in the system, and identifying that pet will be easier.

However to make the program work better, pet owners need to register. Registration is accomplished by visiting and uploading the pet’s photo, entering a few details about it and information that includes the owner’s name, email address and zip code.

“John approached me about this about four years ago but I didn’t think technology was quite there yet so PetCo Foundation has purchased it and taken it full force,” said Patton.

Patton said her shelter receives about 17,000 animals a year, which is proof of how many pets get lost.

“Our ultimate goal is we want the dogs to get reunited with owners. I don’t want your dog.”

PetCo’s goal is to register every cat and dog in the country.

Any decent photo of a pet can be used while most people have photos of their pet taken on their smartphone camera. The app even comes with a puppy yapping sound to grab the attention of the dog for a full face shot while it’s photo is being taken.

The public can use the app to see if a dog roaming the street is actually registered as a lost pet. He said statistics show that only two percent of the population will actually take the dog down to the shelter for its care.

A person taps the app, then “found” and take a photo by hitting the “bark button” and the dog usually looks right at the camera for the shot. Then the user taps “search” and within seconds know if it’s been reported missing. The user has the option of hanging out with the dog until the owner is alerted and retrieves it or just report the location and leave.

“It’s almost like a smart poster – it narrows everything down to your pet,” said Polimeno.

The program is so effective that all animal control officers in San Diego are given smartphones with the app to photograph a found pet to check to see if it’s reported missing and call the owner before taking it to the shelter. Finding the pet before it makes it to the shelter saves the owner money for vaccinations and other expenses.

“It’s a money saving move for the county,” said Marrello. “There’s a lot of money spent. There’s a lot of animal euthanasia which is a huge problem.”