Although new apps are conceived daily, few save lives. Finding Rover, newly adopted by Dallas' animal shelter, promises to help the city with one of its most vexing problems: lost and stray animals.
Dallas Animal Services is the latest shelter to partner with Finding Rover, which uses facial recognition technology to identify lost pets. It's being hailed as a game-changer for shelters across the country.
Every dog that enters the shelter is registered on Finding Rover. If you're looking for your missing dog or for a pet to adopt, you can scroll through the dog mugshots from your smartphone or computer.
Even if you don't own a pet, you can help: If you see a lost dog on the street, you can be a hero and potentially reconnect the dog with its owner by taking a photo and adding it to the system.
California-based founder John Polimeno was considering opening a winery in Napa Valley when he conceived the Finding Rover idea.
"I saw a lost dog poster, and it brought back terrible memories of a dog my family had lost," Polimeno says. "It was the worst three days of our lives. We found him just by chance, but it spurred something in my head to think of facial recognition. You can do it for people, why not for animals? My wife said, 'Okay, this is what you're going to do.'"
He went to work with a team from the University of Utah, who created a program that identifies 128 spots around an animal's face. "For animals, it's more difficult than for people," Polimeno says. "They can have a long nose, a short nose, there's so many more variables than a human."
San Diego was the first shelter to incorporate Finding Rover, and it has since been adopted by 78 shelters, including Austin and Houston; San Antonio comes on board in June.
"We're trying to focus first on the largest shelters where the most animals come in, but we're not going to turn anyone down," Polimeno says. "Within the next two to three years, we'll have 90 percent of the shelters in the United States on board."
They're also international; Australia is introducing legislation to make the app mandatory across the country.
"We've found that where we're needed most are municipal shelters like Dallas Animal Services," he says. "They have to take in every animal and have to try and re-home them. To be able to take this amazing technology that's used in police departments and casinos — now we're using it for good, to save our best friend."
Finding Rover is free. It won't use your personal information, sell services or send emails. Eventually, it will be supported via ads for dog food and services, but those haven't even begun yet. "My wife Christie and I have had pets our whole lives, and we have some additional amazing investors who are all dog lovers," Polimeno says.
Dallas Animal Services also has the opportunity to receive a $20,000 grant from the Petco Foundation. If 20,000 people sign up by July 4, Petco will give a dollar per person, so it benefits DAS to get as many signees as possible.
"Greater Dallas has over a million people, but there are maybe 50 animal control officers?" Polimeno says.
"If you're in a park on a Saturday afternoon and you see a big dog walking around, what do you do?" he says. "How many people are going to take that dog, put it in their car and drive it somewhere to see if it is even chipped? You don't know the animal, you don't know if it's safe. With this, all you have to do is take a picture. If that dog is registered, then there's 98 percent certainty you’re going to find its owner."