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Shelter takes new approach to finding lost dogs

Finding Rover

Napa County Animal Shelter Animal Attendant Angela Winchell takes a picture of Ruby during her intake process after she was surrendered at the animal shelter. The photograph will be added to the Finding Rover database which uses facial recognition to help owners recover their lost dogs.

People often think of their pets as members of the family, so when a pet is missing, the anxiety and potential heartbreak can be devastating.

Now, dog owners in Napa County are being introduced to a new way to keep their pooches protected.

Napa County Animal Shelter recently became the first Northern California agency to team with Finding Rover, a San Francisco-based social media company that designed an app that employs facial recognition software to specifically help find lost dogs.

“It’s remarkable technology,” said Kristen Loomer, Napa County Animal Shelter manager. “All you do is create an account and upload a photo of your dog. It’s that simple. We’re creating profiles for all of the dogs we have up for adoption. We hope this is another resource for protecting pets and reuniting lost dogs with their owners. And best of all, it’s free.”

Finding Rover CEO John Polimeno worked with a research and development team at the University of Utah to create the software, and launched the app in 2013. The app is used by shelters in Texas, Florida and Kentucky. The San Diego County Department of Animal Services was the first to sign on in California, but Napa County is leading the way in Northern California by integrating the app as part of its adoption transactions.

“Being based in the Bay Area, we are ecstatic to have Napa County Animal Shelter as our first partner,” said Brandi Blankenship, Finding Rover marketing and media manager. “They have an amazing team of caregivers. We’re thrilled to have Napa County lead the way for other Bay Area shelters. Other shelters on deck are Fremont, San Jose, Sacramento and Oakland.”

Finding Rover works two ways. Owners of a lost dog can create a profile for the dog and report it as missing. On the other side, a person who finds a lost dog can upload a picture of the dog and report it as found. The software focuses in on the dog’s eyes and nose using digital markers and searches for a match. Finding Rover reports the software has a 98-percent accuracy rate.

“We want to do everything we can to safeguard our dogs from being lost forever,” Polimeno said. “Registering a dog on Finding Rover is another step all owners should take to further protect their cherished pets.”

Napa County Animal Shelter officially went online with Finding Rover this month, and is focused on educating the community about the new service.

“Finding Rover is a promising tool for pet owners to find their lost dogs,” Loomer said. “It doesn’t replace dog tags or microchips, but it is another step owners can take. I don’t know how many times we’ve received calls from families telling us that they took their dog’s collar off for just a few minutes to give the dog a bath and it ran off. Even the best dog owners can benefit from creating a Finding Rover profile.”

Loomer said she believes Finding Rover will move to the front line of tools that help owners reunite with their dogs. While microchipping is popular, if pet owners don’t update their contact information, the chip is rendered dead if the owner can’t be located.

“With microchips, people move or change phone numbers, but most people keep the same email address, which makes Finding Rover unique,” Loomer said. “If a match is made, the system will give you the email address to contact the owner if the dog is found. But you can also add a phone number so people can contact you by text or phone call.”

Finding Rover also improves upon the traditional lost dog flyer system. Rather than posting flyers where the dog was last seen, Finding Rover will send a digital flyer to all registered Finding Rover users in a 10-mile radius of where the dog was reported lost. The search radius can be expanded to as much as 2,000 miles.

“The more people who use the app, the more reunions Finding Rover can help facilitate,” Loomer said. “Even if you’re just a dog lover, being a part of the Finding Rover community can help reunite a family.”

Since the app is a social media platform, anyone can create a user profile to connect with other programs in the Finding Rover network. Users can share photos of their dogs, find training tips and find animals up for adoption, including dogs at the Napa County Animal Shelter. The shelter also has its own profile, which you can follow, just as you would on Facebook or Twitter.

Finding Rover is exclusive to dogs, but a cat version of the technology is in the works.

The Finding Rover app is available for iPhone and Android. The social media network can also be accessed from a desktop computer, and the app can sync to Facebook to allow for a dual strategy in helping owners reunite with their lost dogs.

To learn more about Finding Rover or to sign up for an account, visit

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Online Editor/Calendar Editor

Samie Hartley is the Napa Valley Register online editor and social media manager. She also assembles the community calendar. Her column Simple & Sassy runs on alternating Sundays.

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