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Adoption Coordinator Marilee Snider looks through the found pets section of the New Albany-Floyd County Animal Shelter's page at FindingRover.com. The web site and application uses pet pictures and facial recognition to help locate animals or owners of found pets, if the pet is registered through Finding Rover. 

NEW ALBANY — The New Albany Floyd County Animal Shelter is using a new, high-tech tool to help pet owners find their furry friends.

The shelter announced this week that they are now using an app and website called Finding Rover, which uses facial recognition to identify lost pets. It is among more than 600 shelters that have partnered with the company to register animals to its system, and more than 700,000 animals are registered in the database. The service is free and available for anyone to use.

If a dog or a cat is lost, the owner can upload a photo of the animal to the app or website and report it as missing, and if anyone finds the pet, they can upload a photo to see if there is a match in the database. When any animal enters the New Albany Floyd County Animal Shelter's system, they are automatically registered to Finding Rover, according to Marilee Snider, adoption coordinator at the shelter.

"If someone posts their lost dog [on Finding Rover], then ideally, the facial recognition will find it at our shelter," she said.

Finding Rover shows lost pets to people within 200 miles of the pet's home zip code, and it is updated hourly, according to John Polimeno, CEO and founder of Finding Rover. He said the facial recognition algorithms were developed in partnership with the University of Utah's School of Computing, and they have an accuracy rate of 98 percent. Finding Rover's algorithm identifies animals by looking at 138 spots on their faces.

The shelter staff also hopes the app will increase adoption rates. The shelter is not only planning to use Finding Rover to reunite lost pets with their owners—it will also use the app to provide photos and information on adoptable animals at the shelter.

David Hall, director of the NA-FC shelter, said the app allows pet owners to be proactive, since they can register their pets with the app or website any time, even if they are not missing. When a pet owner leaves the shelter with an animal, they are encouraged to register on Finding Rover using the same email address the shelter has on file to facilitate reunifications if their dog or cat ever goes missing.

Snider said the app is simple to use, and it doesn't require much more than uploading a photo of one's pet, an email and zip code.

"I hope it does help reunite pets and owners, and also help place adoptable pets," Snider said. "It's an all-around positive application and website to really help ease the public's mind and help them get their critters back."

Hall said he appreciates any additional resources to reunite owners with their pets, whether it is through a microchip, tag or facial recognition. He emphasized that Finding Rover allows anyone, whether they are a pet owner or not, to help others.

"The people who have great big hearts that see an animal that is lost and don't know what to do and can't get hold of the shelter because we are closed—these people can start doing something to help the animal get back home," he said. "Get a picture and get it posted on there. It's not just for pet owners. It's really unique that anyone can use it, especially those who are animal lovers and out there trying to help."

He said he hopes that the use of the app will limit the number of animals coming into the shelter, and he hopes it will lower the amount of time staff spends monitoring websites and social media to match lost animals.

According to the American Humane Association, one in three pets become lost at some point in their lives. Another study from the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families says that less than 23 percent of lost pets in the United States are reunited with their owners.

Polimeno, the app's founder, said more than 18,000 pets have been reunited with their owners since Finding Rover launched, and he stresses that the app only works when community members actively use the app.

"They don’t have to own a pet to save one," he said. "As long as you are willing to take a photo, you can save a pet."