Katie Lisnik, executive director of the the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, watches Leo, a 3-year-old brown tiger cat, play Friday morning in the solarium at the Lewiston animal shelter.

LEWISTON — The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society is using facial recognition software — not to track down criminals but to reunite lost dogs and cats with their families.

The Lewiston animal shelter is the first in Maine to partner with Finding Rover, a facial recognition website and app designed to help families track down missing pets. Shelter workers post a photo of a found dog or cat. Owners post a photo of their lost pet. The software analyzes the two pictures and makes the match.

“The shape of a face, how far apart the ears are, the computer is calculating all of that,” Executive Director Katie Lisnik said. “It’s amazing.”

Finding Rover is free for the shelter and pet owners.

The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society began using the Finding Rover a few weeks ago. The shelter has not yet made any matches, but Lisnik believes it’s only a matter of time.

The humane society already does well reuniting lost dogs with their families. Nationally, about 35% of shelters’ lost dogs are returned to their owners, Lisnik said. In Lewiston last month, 100% went back home.

But cats do not fare nearly as well. Nationally, just 4% of shelter cats get back to their families, Lisnik said. Lewiston’s numbers are similar.

“We know there are families in the community who are missing their cats,” Lisnik said.

Panda, a 4-year-old cat, looks up from her favorite spot Friday morning under the desk of Katie Lisnik, executive director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston.

Part of the reason is that owners often do not start looking for their indoor-outdoor cats right away, figuring Fluffy will come home eventually. By the time they call or visit shelters, their cat may have already been found by a stranger, brought to the shelter and adopted by a new family.

Finding Rover can make that shelter search faster and easier. It can also alert families when an animal has been brought into the shelter, even if they do not yet realize their pet is missing.

“Someone will call and say, ‘I lost a black-and-white cat.’ OK, literally at one point we had 25 all-black cats on the adoption floor and another 15 black-and-white cats. So it’s like, OK, great, but it’s really not that easy. You coming in here, you can say, ‘That’s my black cat’ or ‘That’s not my black cat.’ We can’t do that,” Lisnik said.

“But the facial recognition can differentiate between cats that look really similar. It’s like a 98% success rate of matching the actual cats together, and dogs.”

Finding Rover can also help with animals that have been picked up by someone but not yet brought to shelters, since private citizens also can post photos of a pet they have found and search for a match for free.

All dogs and cats now leave the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society with a Finding Rover profile already created. Adoptive families can update the profile and keep it on hand in case their new pet is ever missing.

“Microchips work really, really well,” Lisnik said, “but we’re hoping this is one more way to help.”

Katie Lisnik, executive director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston.

As of Friday, Finding Rover listed one other participating shelter in Maine: Midcoast Humane in Brunswick. Lisnik hopes others will soon start using the service, too, giving Maine owners an even greater chance of finding their lost pet and making more space for animals that don’t already have a family.

“We’d love to get them back home,” Lisnik said. “And then a cat like Panda (who was surrendered) could go to that next family looking to adopt.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments are not available on this story.