Platform uses facial recognition to reunite lost pets with owners

A free national online database for lost and found pets that uses facial recognition technology is the latest tool helping reunite animal companions with their owners.

More than 1,800 animal shelters and rescues have joined Petco Love Lost since it launched this past April, said Susanne Kogut, president of the nonprofit Petco Love. Just over 2,000 pets and owners were reunited between July and December 2021 thanks to the database.

The artificial intelligence–based platform works like this: The owner of a lost cat or dog uploads photos of the pet to the website along with contact information. Facial recognition technology determines whether a match is at a participating shelter. Initial results usually take less than a minute.

Missing pet flyer posted on a tree trunk

When a person finds a lost pet, the individual can upload an image of the animal to the Petco Love Lost website to learn whether it matches a missing animal in the database.

Kogut sees the database as a complement to microchipping rather than a competitor. “We’re big fans of microchipping pets. It’s one more way of identifying pets,” she said.

The database currently contains photos of approximately 111,000 animals. Kogut hopes news of Petco Love Lost will continue spreading, not just within the animal sheltering community, but among veterinarians and the public as well.

“We want photos of all the shelter animals uploaded to our system. That is step one,” Kogut said. “The real potential happens when the general public uses it. Someone finds a lost dog or cat, they upload a picture to our database, and they’re almost immediately put in touch with the owner.”

Several businesses and organizations have endorsed Petco Love Lost, including the Human Animal Bond Research Institute and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A version of this article appears in the Feb. 1, 2022, print issue of JAVMA.