What cat parent’s ears would not prick up at a headline like this “Facial Recognition Technology Helps Find Missing Pets” ? I love to report on positive developments that will benefit cat owners and I was keen to investigate this new technology. If something helps reunite missing cats with their worried families I believe we should all know about it. OK, how it can help facial recognition technology help us as as cat lovers?
In this post on pet-focused technology:
- I will introduce the facial recognition technology PiP, and
- explain what it is.
- I introduce the organisation adopting the technology in New Zealand,
- and describe what happens when you report a missing cat and PiP starts working.
* indicates a link or explanation at the bottom of the post for technical terms used or links.
What Is PiP?
I knew there would be questions from my readers which I tried to anticipate when speaking to Nygllhuw Morris, NZCAR* Manager, who I met at a cat show. Like any cat lover, I wanted confirmation that this is a genuine tool that will help cat lovers to find a missing cat. Can a picture help strangers report a found pet and help it get home? I imagined the scene:
Your cat as ‘convict 99’ with their own mug shot, like Katie from Glogirly?
Katie from Glogirly © IMAGE CREDIT
PiP technology is real. I was reassured to learn that there are no complicated applications or expensive fees involved for owners. The technology will assist everyone and the small one-off registration fee covers a cat for life and joining the facial technology revolution is as easy as taking a picture and registering your microchipped pet with the New Zealand Companion Animal Register – NZCAR*
For our international readers let me take a moment to introduce NZCAR. It is their forward thinking that has accelerated the introduction of PiP technology in this country.
In 2007 NZCAR realised that New Zealand needed its own country database for ‘microchipped companion animal repatriation’. Before this, the data was held in off-shore in Australia. NZCAR set about establishing a missing pets partnership with New Zealand’s major pet organisations.
- New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc. (NZCAC)
- New Zealand Veterinary Association Inc. (NZVA)
- New Zealand Cat Fancy Inc. (NZCF)
- The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Inc (SPCA)
- NZVA Companion Animal Society (NZVA CAS)
- New Zealand Kennel Club (NZKC)
Profits from the established database go to a dedicated Trust and representatives from each organisation meet regularly to oversee the fund’s management.
NZCAR works with 98% of vets and rescues and the microchip registration fee is a one-off charge for the life of your cat. There are no annual costs or worse, extra fees when your cat is missing. The registration fee makes you a ‘registered user’ and you have access to all the help NZCAR can give. Over 600,000 animals are currently registered on the New Zealand Companion Animal Register.
PiP Facial Recognition in New Zealand
PiP Facial Recognition is the latest pet recovery breakthrough rolled out by NZCAR. It is cutting-edge technology at the service of cat owners and other ‘chipped pets. The technology can also be accessed through the new NZCAR linked website LostPet.co.nz.
‘PiP’ is the most advanced pet facial recognition technology currently available and it is revolutionising the process of finding and reuniting families with lost pets here in New Zealand. It’s a cat photo recognition search engine.
How Does PiP Actually Work?
Cat owners might be surprised to realise that a human facial recognition algorithm** like the ones you see going through airport security could take at a detour into pet territory, but as the technology is adopted worldwide, many more cats and other companion animals will be located with Pip technology.
What is a ‘facial recognition algorithm’?
The phrase is a short way of saying lots about a complex idea.
For you and I, facial recognition algorithms identify features by finding landmarks from an image of our faces. For example, an algorithm may analyse the relative position, size, and/or shape of your eyes, nose, cheekbones, and jaw.
For a cat parent just replace your cat’s face with your own and the technology does the same thing. It identifies things such as facial marks, colour placement and ear position. The clear picture below of Miranda is ready for submission to the PiP database.
Why is PiP So Important for Ordinary People?
One of the best and most important features of ‘PiP’ is that is mobile capable technology, and this is great news in the mobile-focused world we live in. You do not need to have access to an expensive and heavy microchip scanner.
NOTE: For those without a mobile telephone I give telephone contact details below.
If you find a missing cat ‘PiP’ technology means you can help return them home by taking a picture of the cat you find and adding it to the lost pet site. PiP and NZCAR will take over once you upload an image and immediately begin to run checks for a positive match.
TOP TIP: Try to make sure the unfamiliar cat is not a new pet who has moved in locally. Jack is chipped and on the NZCAR register. © Image Credit: (FB) Michelle at Kokoro
How Do You Report Your Cat Missing?
Reporting a cat is easy to do. I wanted to make sure all of the family cats’ microchip details are up to date recently and discovered that reporting a cat missing is part of your personal microchip record page online.
Type your microchip number into the NZCAR query box on their front page, then confirm your email address. Once the email is confirmed you can access the page with your cat’s chip details. This is where you file your missing cat report.
- Tick the notification box which is clearly indicated in red
- This flags your pet as missing for NZCAR staff
- A ‘PiP’ lost pet alert will be generated on lostpet.co.nz,
- and will also be added as a notification on the New Zealand community site used by millions of people called Neighbourly.
What Happens When A Cat Is Reported Missing?
If you flag your pet as missing, a notification appears in the staff computers, and the system itself looks for possible matches. Things start happening immediately and this is reassuring for you, the cat parent.
- When a notification of a missing animal arrives at NZCAR, images of found cats are analysed using PiP technology to see if there is a match.
- Agents such as vets within a 10 km (6 miles) radius are also notified your pet is missing. For rural pets, notifications are sent to the three nearest agents. That way if a missing pet is taken to a veterinarian and scanned for a chip, identification is almost immediate.
What If I Can’t Get Online?
Even if a pet has a microchip its owner may not be able to access the internet. For these pet owners, NZCAR is available by landline/mobile telephone by calling 0800 LOSTPET. This is a ‘freephone’ service with no charge to the caller.
The Facebook Touch
The ‘PiP’ system allows NZCAR staff to monitor lost and found posts on Facebook and import photographs for comparison.
One important thing to note. You as the Facebook page or post owner need to give permission for NZCAR to access your image. This means you must remember to adjust a picture’s setting on Facebook if you have flagged your pet as missing with NZCAR.
How Do I Get ‘PiP’ Facial Recognition?
Registrations for the NZCAR “PiP” Facial Recognition in New Zealand began in December 2017 and are open now. Costs for PiP can be broke down as follows:
- $15.00 – the fee for standard NZCAR microchip only registration. This places your pet on the database.
$30.00 – Will upgrade an existing NZCAR registration to “PiP”
$45.00 – If you are new to NZCAR microchip registration combined with “PiP” facial recognition.
One great thing is about PiP and NZCAR is that they don’t suddenly increase the price if you register your pet and join PiP after a ‘chipped pet goes missing. The cost is the same and it is worth the investment.
Both the NZCAR website and LostPet.co.nz are helpful websites and they will give you plenty of helpful information.
If you do need to get in touch with NZCAR :
- General enquiries or address updates & no missing pet, please ring during office hours. 8.30 – 5 p.m. Mon-Fri 0800 LOSTPET
- After hours NZCAR only has emergency staff on duty, and as they are working remotely they may not have full access for all enquiries.
- For lost pet support you can call their 0800 567873 number in the evenings and weekends to speak to the on-call support staff. 5.00pm-Midnight Weekdays, 8.30am-Midnight Weekends
- Message service From Midnight to 8.30am NZCAR offers a message service. Your call will be returned the following morning.
Missing Pets. What You Can Do to Help
We have a lot of dogs and cats in our community and recognise local ‘residents’. New Zealand Dogs have to be legally registered and wear a coloured tag that should be clearly visible. Many cats are tagged and wear a collar.
Local communities on Facebook and Neighbourly often have a lost and found pets section. This can be good for an immediate hit on your local area. It gives people a heads-up that an unfamiliar cat does have a home. and a contact point to reach them.
- NZCAR has a lost pets poster you can customise with your own details and pictures then print off.
Specific Cat Search Advice
Cats can be a challenge. A cat hides better than a dog so, as well as filing your missing pet report, we recommend a web page by a lady called Kat Albrecht which cat owners will find helpful.
I quote a few words from her important post:
“…….social media posts and (bright) neon posters should be a supplement to a targeted search in the immediate area of where the cat disappeared.
Most often this involves an aggressive, physical search of a cat’s territory. And yes, that means looking under and in every conceivable hiding place in your yard and in your neighbours’ yards!” – Kat Albrecht
There is plenty of good advice for people who find pets on the NZCAR website. Their advice covers pets on your property, and also the unhappy effects on another family if you ‘think you will keep it’.
The site also covers the important issue of finding and reporting a deceased pet. This is an important issue and it matters. As a cat owner, you probably know this already, but the words on the website will hit home, they did with me.
“…there is most likely still an owner who would prefer to know than keep worrying“
I would want to know. It would be really hard for my family but I would rather know than live with endless uncertainty.
What Pets does the NZCAR accept as ‘chipped?
I have covered lost pets from the cats perspective and can hear the other pet owners asking ‘What about us?’
A large range of animals can be microchipped with NZCAR. If your animal is a family member, valuable, or even used as part of your work it can be included on the NZCAR database.
- Guinea pigs
PiP Chips and Positives
One particular event hit home with us all in New Zealand and showed the power and effectiveness of the microchip. The earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 was a major tragedy that affected humans and their pets. Positive action had to be taken in Christchurch by formal and ad hoc animal rescue teams working against the clock as buildings and areas were assessed for safety.
NZCAR provided a freephone 0800 missing pets number for all pet owners to help locate missing pets. Owners of chipped and un-chipped could use the service. The organisation managed to help get 25% of non-chipped pets home in two or three days. NZCAR managed to reunite 85% chipped pets and owners in a matter of two or three hours!
Chipping Your Pet
All of our cats are chipped and one by one we are adding them to PiP. Microchipping is simply part of being responsible pet people. We urge everyone to get a pet chipped as soon as you are able.
Local authorities sometimes have cut-price or free chipping so check online or ring them up. NZSPCA and animal charities will often provide spay and neutering services. Your cat is spayed, isn’t it? You can find out a lot of the information about chipping online, via Neighbourly or your local vets.
- TIP Don’t forget to tell NZCAR when you FIND your pet as well!
We packed a lot of information into our PiP post because we know New Zealand pet owners need this information. You also need to know where to find it.
What do you think is the most important thing to remember when your own pet is lost?
Definitions and sources:
This post is a 2018 CWA Certificate of Excellence Winner
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.
She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.