Your Phone Can Help Reunite Pets Lost During Hurricane Harvey

By Travis Greenwood

A mobile app is using proprietary facial recognition software and GPS data to reunite dogs and humans separated by Hurricane Harvey.

Available for both Android and Apple devices, VetsPlusMore is partnering with leading animal welfare organizations like Best Friends, America's largest no-kill animal sanctuary, to build a searchable, centralized repository for lost and found pet listings.

And the early returns, as the touching video embedded below illustrates, are very promising.

Nothing feels better than reuniting a lost dog with his family! When a good Samaritan found Maverick wandering the streets, they took him home to provide him with the care he needed until he could make his way to the Best Friends Rescue and Reunite Center, run in conjunction with Montgomery County Animal Shelter Texas. Within hours of his arrival, his family arrived at the center looking for him. He met them with a wide smile and his tail furiously wagging! Don’t miss their reunion in this sweet video! -emily

Posted by Best Friends Animal Society on Monday, September 4, 2017

In an email, Michelle Sathe, a Public Relations Specialist with Best Friends, revealed that more than 400 people had downloaded VetsPlusMore as of Friday, September 1st.

Of those, 56 posted animals found in the Houston area, while another 43 reported missing pets, the majority cats and dogs.

New app uses facial recognition software to reunite pets and humans separated by Hurricane Harvey
A selection of the pets displaced by Hurricane Harvey and currently listed as found or missing on VetsPlusMore
credit: VetsPlusMore.com

The VetsPlusMore platform was initially developed to ensure that rural Americans had around-the-clock access to medical care for their animals.

For a modest fee that ranges from $3 for 24 hours to $107 for one year, pet owners can text and video chat with certified veterinarians, who, in turn, diagnose symptoms, prescribe treatments, and make referrals for local care providers, shelters, charity groups, and the like.

Users can create detailed profiles for their pets, bringing photos and data points like breed, weight, coat, age, sex, and medical history into a single place, all easily accessed with a swipe or two.

New app uses facial recognition software to reunite pets and humans separated by Hurricane Harvey
Sample pet listing created with the VetsPlusMore app
credit: VetsPlusMore.com

And if you've found a lost animal, the process is largely the same: Download the app, create a ticket, add a picture, and note the location where the animal was found. From there, the app's matching algorithm does the rest.

As Sue Citro, Best Friend's Chief Digital Officer, explained in an interview over the weekend, there is no cost to register and referrals are free and unlimited.

The goal, she added, is to match pets with their people as quickly as possible, thereby easing the stress from what is an exhausting and traumatic experience.

And as the app collects more information, it will deliver even better results and bring comfort to those that need it — good news for both the current crisis and the natural disasters to come.

For Citro and Best Friends, the collaboration with VetsPlusMore is part of a larger strategy to bring groups and stakeholders with shared goals under a larger umbrella for the benefit of pets, humans, and the communities in which they live.

To this end, a similar agreement has been hatched with FindingRover.com, an app that also uses facial recognition technology and social media broadcasts to alert a network of pet organizations and members to lost animals in their area.

In related news, Best Friends has seen a surge of happy reunions at a triage center it established just north of Houston with the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in the wake of the deadly storm.

Per the tweet below, more than 100 animals have been connected with their owners, a statistic that should continue to grow in the coming weeks.

For more on what you can do to help animals affected by Hurricane Harvey, bounce on over to Best Friend's website where they have bundled a list of resources on a single landing page.

Have you used an app to locate a lost pet? Share your story with us in the comments below!