App helps track lost four-legged friends

The Georgia Straight - - High Tech -

> 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.”

PIP My Pet founder Philip Rooy­akkers came up with the app after meet­ing a well-cared-for dog that had been quickly adopted from a shel­ter.

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