Fireworks and other loud noises account for nearly 20% of missing pets, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
To help pet owners cope with a missing dog or another pet as a result of noisy July 4 celebrations, thunderstorms and natural disasters, the ASPCA has created a free smartphone app for iOS and Android. The app's been downloaded about 11,000 times on Android and 10,400 times on iOS, an ASPCA spokeswoman said Thursday.
The ASPCA Pet Safety app shows pet owners ways to search for a lost animal that are tailored to the pet's personality and where the pet went missing. It also helps an owner create a digital lost pet flyer to share quickly over a user's social networks. Tips for ensuring a pet's safety are included, as well as a place to store medical information and other vital stats about a pet. There's even a field to store a pet's specific embedded identity chip number for quick reference in an emergency.
Having the app loaded on his iPhone came in handy for David Ohana when his dog Echo recently ate potentially poisonous prescription pills.
"The app's been very useful because we had all her medical information stored there," Ohana said in a telephone interview. "Just recently, she got into a roommate's pill bottle and we just freaked out. We just left for the emergency vet and didn't know where her medical paperwork was. But the app made it really easy to find that on my phone."
Ohana downloaded the app on the advice of a friend when they were talking about how Echo is a nervous gray pit bull mix that he and a friend rescued from a shelter. He described the dog as a one-and-a-half-year-old "sweetheart" who closely follows him around his Brooklyn apartment when the noise level gets high.
With July 4 celebrations, Ohana took Echo to his parents in the quieter suburbs. Days before July 4th, people in his Brooklyn neighborhood were already launching fireworks. "She follows me around like she's saying 'Save me!' from the noise and will hide under a table," he said.
"I'm really sensitive to her anxiety. I get nervous and worry that if she gets scared, she'll just leave," he said. "In the city, you see posters of missing dogs all the time."
The ASPCA knows scared dog psychology well and has tried to help with the app, he said. The app has a set of best practices to use with pets during traumatic moments like a hurricane or thunderstorm, as well as July 4th celebrations.
Ohana, who works as a talent manager for the The New Yorker Festival, said he used the app to register his name with the ASPCA so he could share his experience with the app.
Ohana is probably more sensitive to his dog's needs than some pet owners, after seeing his pet cat Izzy attacked and killed by a coyote in the backyard of his parent's home in San Diego when he was 18. "I had a bad experience with Izzy, so I'm probably more aware that Echo is a nervous dog who's slowly trying to build up her confidence."
The app, built by app maker 3 Sided Cube, allows users to email the ASPCA with feedback if they've lost a pet and have used the app's missing pet search tool. In the future, the ASPCA would like to create a more turnkey form for users to fill out, rather than just an email address, to make it easier to share feedback, said Olivia Melikhov, senior manager for social media at the ASPCA.
The app currently allows push notifications to all users. The humane group wants to improve that ability to be able to send geo-targeted notifications in the case of a natural disaster in an affected area to provide users with specific information on pet-friendly evacuation centers and other vital information, she added.