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(KPIX) — A smartphone app that helps dog owners find their lost pets by using doggie facial recognition is gaining traction among animal shelters in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Finding Rover is an app that takes a picture of your dog which is then loaded into a database. Any other photo of the same dog taken by anyone else with the app would provide a match. Dog owners with the app also get push notifications of lost dogs in their area and lost-doggie owners are notified by email that a match has been found.

Discovery Bay residents John and Kristie Polimeno came up with the idea for the app after seeing a lost dog poster that reminded them of their own lost pet years earlier. They funded research into the dog facial recognition software at the University of Utah, and app programmers developed an algorithm to distinguish key features of dogs that differentiate them from other dogs.

Since its unveiling one year ago, Finding Rover has resulted in the recovery of some 200 dogs in the Bay Area and other locations, John Polimeno told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The app is being adopted by animal care agencies in Contra Costa and San Diego counties, along with Miami and Austin, Texas – while other Bay Area shelters are also considering using the app, the Chronicle reported.

"Finding Rover's facial recognition is a pretty cool software with decent accuracy," San Francisco Animal Care and Control director Rebecca Katz told the Chronicle. "This could really be useful for everyone."

One issue developers found in coming up with the app was getting dogs to look at the camera. "That was one of our biggest problems — getting the dog to say cheese," John Polimeno told the Contra Costa Times. The problem was solved by adding a "bark button" that plays a recorded puppy bark that instantly gets dogs to turn and face the camera. "It's like magic," he said.

Polimeno says he plans to expand the program to include cats later this year.

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