El Paso, TX reunites pets with owners via interactive map

The city’s Animal Services Department partnered with IT to launch an interactive map that plots lost & found pets.

El Paso, TX reunites pets with owners via interactive map media 1


City of El Paso departments recognized for animal welfare innovation | Business Announcements |

Pethealth Inc. has named El Paso Animal Services and the Department of Information Technology Services the recipient of the 2020 Diane & Bob Hoover Innovation Award. The award is presented

City of El Paso departments recognized for animal welfare innovation | Business Announcements |


  • El Paso shelters take in 27,000 pets per year

  • The city launched an interactive tool to reduce the number of pets in shelters and increase the number of pets that are reunited with their owners

  • El Paso’s Pet Finder map plots lost and found cats and dogs around the city

  • Users can add their pets to the map when they go missing, and can zoom in on specific neighborhoods to look for reported lost animals

  • The Pet Finder app makes use of existing GIS technology that was already available in El Paso, adding an innovative new use case to the software.


It’s impossible to rate one local government service as the “most important” to citizens, but if you ask the pet owners out there, the ability to find their fur babies if they go missing is likely at the top of the list. More than $ 10 million pets are reported lost each year$  in the United States; many of these are never reunited with their owners.

El Paso, TX, wants to $ make it easier for the city’s lost pets to find their way home$ . In an innovative collaboration between the city’s Animal Services Department and IT, El Paso launched an interactive “pet finder” map that uses GIS software. Lost and found pets are logged on a map, allowing owners to hone in on their local area and have a better chance of locating their animal.

By reimagining how an existing piece of technology can be used, El Paso has found a new way to better serve its citizens — an approach that other local governments should take note of.

The problem with lost pets

Beyond the emotional toll a lost pet causes for residents, there’s also a resourcing factor. El Paso’s Animal Services department takes in about $ 27,000 found pets per year$ . The city is working toward a $ “no kill” goal for shelters$ , meaning that animals who make their way into the system must be cared for, and reunited with their owners or given a new home.

This priority has pushed the city to implement a $ number of programs to help manage the lost pets that come in$ . One of these, the “Finder to Foster” program, allows people who find an unidentified animal to bring it to a nearby fire station to scan the microchip. If an owner can’t be immediately identified, the finder has the option to foster the animal until the owner is found.

The Finder to Foster program helps the pets who’ve been found. But what about the owners who are looking for their lost animal?

Like many shelters, the Animal Services department would post lost and found animals on its website. But with nearly 400 animals entering shelters in a week, there wasn’t an easy way for owners to find their pet.

As $ Michele Anderson, Public Affairs Coordinator at City of El Paso Animal Services, explains$ :

“People were having to scroll, scroll, scroll on our website to look through the listings.”

There had to be a better way.

Mapping lost & found pets

To make it easier for owners to reunite with their missing animals, El Paso turned to a technology that’s being used to solve problems across local governments of all sizes: maps.

$ GIS mapping$  is being applied to everything from flood zone predictions to planting trees. Why couldn’t these maps be used for lost animals, too?

Officials from El Paso’s Animal Services started wondering this, and brought the question to the city’s IT department. $ Together, the two departments worked to bring it to life$ :

“The software was being used for environmental services, but we tweaked it for our usage.”

The resulting $ Pet Finder app plots missing and found animals across the city in an interactive map$ . Animals are organized into four categories to make it easier to browse: lost dogs, lost cats, found dogs, and found cats. The lost pets are typically added when owners report the missing animal via 311. Found pets are noted by the shelters when they arrive.

The map allows for photos of the animal, information about the breed, color, and any other identifying characteristics.

The application can be found on the city’s website and on its 311 app. Users, such as those looking for a lost pet, can zoom in on a particular neighborhood or street rather than looking at all pets across the entire city.

If an owner finds his or her pet, they can call or email Animal Services to claim it. They’ll have to show proof of ownership, like vaccination records, before they’re able to claim it. (There’s also a fee to reclaim a lost pet.)

Initial Pet Finder map results

The brilliance in El Paso’s approach is its resourcefulness: by thinking outside the box and looking at the existing software on hand, the city was able to develop an innovative solution to a common problem.

And it’s working. The city’s Animal Services team reports that $ residents are finding their pets faster$ :

“We’re always hearing awesome success stories of people being reunited with their pets within hours or a day, thanks to this technology.”

Beyond happier owners and pets, the project has been recognized for its innovative thinking within the animal space. El Paso received the Diane and Bob Hoover Animal Innovation Award from Pethealth, Inc., $ which goes to$ :

“Individuals or groups who strive to better the animal welfare industry through innovations in technology.”

As part of its reward, the city received a $10,000 grant to be used on additional enhancements to the Animal Services' technology offerings.

El Paso’s track record of innovation

Through its creative repurposing of GIS technology, the city was able to better serve its citizens, says $ Deputy City Manager Dionne Mack$ :

“This effort is another example of City staff producing low-cost, high-value results for our community.”

The Pet Finder isn’t the only way the city is using technology — or maps — to solve problems. El Paso’s Capital Improvement Department used GIS technology to map over 25 city services and features, from bike lanes to flood zones to $ equity and economic activity across the city’s neighborhoods$ . Using data dating back to the 1930s, the city mapped data points within Housing, Education, Accessibility, and Income categories to highlight need areas and places with more historical investment than others.

Key takeaways

The success of El Paso’s Pet Finder lays the groundwork for other cities using GIS mapping to launch a similar tool to reunite local pets and owners. But even beyond animal services, the project offers lessons that any local government can learn from:

1. Use the technology you have: For El Paso it was GIS mapping. For other cities, it may be something else. The key is to assess your current toolkit first, and try to think about other uses for the products you already have.

2. Find partners across the organization: El Paso’s Animal Services Department may have had the idea for the Pet Finder map, but without their partnership with the city’s IT department, the project never would have come to life.

3. Bring in the community to help solve the problem: Crowdsourcing comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be plotting where pets went missing. Or where trees should be planted, or where the budget should be spent. The more local governments bring their communities into their work, the more they can ensure their programs meet citizens’ needs.

Additional Story Information



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