App helps track lost four-legged friends
> BY KATE WILSON
When a beloved family pet goes missing, it can be a traumatic experience. Tenderly cared for cats and dogs can end up in animal kill shelters or be forced to search for scraps on the streets. Although one in three pets will go missing during their lifetime, fewer than two percent of cats and 20 percent of dogs are ever reunited with their owners.
Vancouver company PIP My Pet thinks it has the answer. Philip Rooyakkers, founder and CEO of the business, has developed an app that he believes will make it easier for grieving families to locate the millions of pets lost in Canada each year. Using a technology perfected on humans, he has created a noninvasive way to bring furry friends home.
“One day, I was working in the kennels and a couple brought in a beautiful dog,” he tells the Straight on the line from his Vancouver office. “I discovered that they had rescued it from a shelter, but the dog had only been there for 36 hours before they adopted it out. He had been really well kept by his previous owners. I was happy that he had been chosen so quickly, but it struck me that there must be a family out there who were very sad to have lost a dog they obviously cared for. That’s when I came up with the idea of using facial recognition to identify pets.”
Like humans, cats and dogs have unique features. With the PIP My Pet app, owners can take a picture of their companion’s face and save it into a database. If the cat or dog goes missing, families open the application and activate a lost-pet alert, which automatically emails its details to every animal-control agency, veterinarian, and rescue shelter within a certain radius.
If a Good Samaritan discovers a missing cat or dog, they can download the app, take a picture of its face, and flag it as a found pet. The company’s patented facial-recognition technology identifies the correct animal more than 99 percent of the time.
In order to work effectively, the app needs a big network of subscribers. Rather than build that user base from scratch, Rooyakkers partners with microchip companies and offers his service to those who have already tagged their pets.
“Hundreds of thousands of animals are registered with microchip companies, and they have huge databases,” Rooyakkers says. “We license our technology to them so that our software adds another layer of protection for pet owners. Microchips are great, and we definitely recommend that you get one, but they don’t give a guarantee that your pet will be returned home to you. Some chips, for example, run on different codes—so if you take an animal to a vet or rescue, if they don’t have a universal reader, they won’t scan the chip. Some microchips don’t work at all, and other times an owner may move and forget to update their information. By letting people take a picture of the pet to identify it, there’s a greater chance the cat or dog will come home.”
PIP My Pet has already partnered with the Companion Animal Registry in New Zealand, a country that requires all its dogs to be microchipped. Rooyakkers—currently cementing a deal with one of the largest microchip companies in North America—hopes to bring his company’s facial-recognition technology to Canada, and Vancouver, in the fall. Individuals who microchip their furry friends will be able to register them on the app, offering an immediate mobile way to flag when they’ve been lost.
“Upwards of 10 million pets each year go missing in North America alone,” Rooyakkers says. “We euthanize more than four million of those. We can’t adopt our way out of the number of pets that are lost and found. We have to make sure technology keeps up with the problem.”