Some of the most heartbreaking stories and images to come out in the wake of Hurricane Harvey involve animals separated from their owners. For families frantically looking for their furry friends, there's hope. Owners who lost pets during the hurricane that devastated Texas earlier this month can upload their pets' pictures to an app. That app will then use facial recognition software to match the pictures with animals checked into shelters around the country.
The app, Finding Rover, is partnering with Petco Foundation and the Houston SPCA. Finding Rover executives understand that cats and dogs can be major parts of families.
"A dog or cat is a beloved family member, and if he or she goes missing, it can be devastating to everyone involved, especially in times of disasters," said John Polimeno, CEO and founder of Finding Rover. "We want to do everything we can to safeguard our dogs and cats from being lost forever."
"As the devastation brought on by Hurricane Harvey continues to unfold, the resilience and strength of our community will not be shaken as we come together, neighbors serving neighbors, to bring Houston's pets home," said Patricia Mercer, president of the Houston SPCA, said in a statement. "Our work has only just begun and we look forward to utilizing this extraordinary tool to help create some happy endings."
How Finding Rover Works
Over 7 million pets get lost each year, and Finding Rover wants to help reunite all of them with their respective owners. The app functions as a giant database for pets. All a user has to do is upload a clear picture of the animal. Finding Rover even includes a "bark button" to grab the dog's attention for a quick pic. Once the image is uploaded, the app's facial recognition system tags the dog's unique features and stores them in the event the animal goes missing.
But how do users find the missing animal? Finding Rover sends out alerts through a variety of partners and with in-app messaging. Anyone who finds an animal that the app notes as missing takes a photo of the dog. That image gets sent to the database where it's compared with the facial recognition notes from the original owner. The owner's contact information pops up, allowing the finder of the animal to get in touch with the dog's owner.
A National Effort
As of this story, thousands of animals are displaced or missing. Social media feeds included images of dogs tied to poles, deserted by families rushing to get out of harm's way. However, as the Washington Post's Ian Livingston wrote, "We learned our lesson after Hurricane Katrina. Your family’s disaster plan needs to include pets. This is true on both a personal level as a pet owner, and it is true for first responders, as well as many shelters."
Shelters around the United States are looking to transport and shelter whatever abandoned animals they can house. Several shelters in Kentucky are even taking in horses left to fend for themselves during the hurricane. The Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington D.C. is another regional organization that went across the country to pitch in.
"A five-person team from [our group] flew to Dallas yesterday to assist the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team in the effort to help animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey," HRA Communications Director Matt Williams said in a Washington Post interview.