Press Release: Local volunteers launch free “Pet Alerts” lost pets notification app in time for July 4 weekend

“Pet Alerts” Lost Pet Notification App Launched by Local Civic Technologists

Austin, TX (July 1, 2015) – Local volunteers have released a free application that helps Austin area residents recover their lost pets in time for the July 4 weekend, when fireworks cause many animals to panic and run astray. The application, Pet Alerts, is available at

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Losing a furry member of your family can by a distressing experience. Pet Alerts seeks to provide a solution to the common question, “How do I know if my pet has been recovered by Austin Animal Services?”  Pet Alerts allows residents to subscribe to receive text or email updates when an animal matching their lost pet’s basic description arrives at an Austin Animal Center facility. All a residents needs to do to recieve notifications is select what type of animal (dog, cat, or other) has gone missing and include their email and/or phone number. To narrow the scope of notifications, animal owners can also optionally include the date the animal went missing and the gender of their pet.

The best immediate actions that owners can take when their pet is missing is to search and notify members of their community. The first few hours hours are critical in recovering a lost pet. But once a pet has been checked into Austin Animal Center (AAC) facilities, Pet Alerts provides a convenient option to passively receive updates on AAC intakes.

“We chose to work on this project because there was an obvious need and we wanted to work with the city to make the underlying data available in a better format,” said software engineer, Tim Shelburne, lead developer of the app. “Once we had quality data, our first priority was to design a clear and simple process for pet owners to recover their pets,” said designer and web developer, Natalya Shelburne.

The data for this app is powered by the Austin Animal Services integration with the City of Austin Data Portal, found at Because Austin has a “no-kill” policy, Animal Services relies on efficient animal repatriation in order to meet their goals and avoid overcrowding in their facilities. More information on Lost & Found Pets can be found on the Animal Services webpage,

“This app illustrates how open access to city data can provide new services to residents through the passionate work of civic technologists. This app has been several years in the making and a key factor in the release of this app is the partnership with Austin Animal Services to release quality lost animal intake data through the City of Austin Data Portal,” said Open Austin Brigade Captain Mateo Clarke.  “With the City’s open data and hackathons like the ATX Hack for Change, we are becoming more successful in aligning community needs with the developers & designers that can create impactful solutions.”

The “Pet Alerts” app is the second animal services-related app developed by the volunteers of Open Austin. The first, the @CutePetsAustin Twitterbot, is a Twitter feed highlighting adoptable pets at the animal shelter. It’s available at

Open Austin is a citizen volunteer group that promotes open government, open data, and civic application development in Austin, Texas as a part of the Code for America grassroot network of like-minded brigades. Open Austin was formed in 2009 by citizens interested in the City of Austin web strategy. Open Austin is on the web at


(Download a PDF version of the press release here.)


Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Jun 15

Date: Mon, Jun 15, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Invited Guest: Miles Hutson
Topic: Developing a Crime API

Miles Hutson wanted to do analysis of crime information around the city. Although APD does post crime information on the open government data portal, it didn’t have all that he needed. Miles will discuss how he found the data he needed, scraped it from the web, and produced a new API for his analysis. He’ll share the results of his work and his analysis.

Also: ATX Hack for Change 2015 is one for the books. We’ll have an update on the event. We’d also like to invite any participants to come and briefly present their projects, and talk about their plans (and needs) to move it forward.

Open Austin hosts a monthly meet-up, to discuss local open government and civic technology issues. Our meet-ups are free and open to the public.  The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

ATX Hack for Change 2015, Jun 5-7

logo-atx-hack-for-change-2014Date: Fri, Jun 5 – Sun, Jun 7
Location: St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX

Event site:

Join a multitude of other hackers, visionaries and civic-minded individuals at Austin’s third annual ATX Hack for Change. This is the city’s largest hackathon for civic and social good.

Local civic leaders will present pitches for the tools they need to fulfill their missions as agents of change in Austin. All you have to do is choose a challenge that fits your skill set, passions, and curiosity. Projects will address a wide variety of social and civic issues: anything from public transit to feeding the hungry, from helping protect the environment to promoting government transparency.

Last year’s ATX Hack for Change brought together over 200 civic and social innovators to create two dozen social good and civic applications and projects that continue to provide meaningful impact for Austinites across the city. Coinciding with the (National Day of Civic Hacking)[], this year’s event aims to bring even more diverse skillsets to the table to solve our city’s complex challenges — both tech-related and not.

IMPORTANT: You need to RSVP through the Eventbrite page to attend:

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, May 18

Date: Mon, May 18, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Invited Guest: Andy Wilson
Topic: OpenStreetMap!

May 20 update: Slides from Chip Rosenthal are here. Slides from Andy Wilson are here.

OpenStreetMap is a is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. Users have the ability to add and edit features in the maps.

The City of Austin publishes copious geospatial data sets, including street address and footprints of all buildings in the city and surrounding areas. A group of volunteers is working to get this information imported into OpenStreetMap, so that it has accurate information and addresses for our city.

Andy Wilson will talk about the OpenStreetMap project and the effort to add City of Austin data to the map.

The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

Open Austin hosts a monthly meet-up, to discuss local open government and civic technology issues. Our meet-ups are free and open to the public.

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Apr 20

Date: Mon, Apr 20, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Invited Guest: Nick Hadjigeorge
Topic: Data Portal Metrics

What can open data portal metrics tell us about how people use open data? At the April 20 Open Austin meetup, Nick Hadjigeorge will discuss an analysis of Socrata portal metrics and provide insights into how people are using open data on 14 Socrata portals.

The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

Open Austin hosts a monthly meet-up, to discuss local open government and civic technology issues. Our meet-ups are free and open to the public.

Code Across Austin V: Civic Hack Summit Recap

Civic Hack Summit 2015Code Across Austin V / Civic Hack Summit was held on Feb 28, 2015. This event was part of national Code Across activity. sponsored by Code for America.

For this year’s Code Across Austin event, we decided to take a new approach to the conventional hackathon model. With the help of many community partners and dedicated volunteers, we believe we succeeded.

Conventional hackathons usually combine project ideation, development, and deployment into a single event. The result is one or two projects with real potential, while the rest fall by the wayside.

The 2015 Civic Hack Summit, in addressing the aforementioned pitfalls, was designed to produce a collection of plans for projects that could anchor a year-long civic hacking effort.

First, four guest presenters spoke about the potential for civic technology to improve the lives of Austin-area residents.

Austin City Council Member, District 4, Greg Casar spoke about the need for data-driven tools to enhance decision making at City Council. For example, we might know about areas in Austin with too few parks, but knowing exactly who and how many people are affected by the issue would strengthen any proposal for action.

Austin Monitor Publisher Michael Kanin shared his experience working with the City to release the raw data from the AMANDA database, the system used to track all permits relating to building construction, remodeling, and demolition. Kanin spoke of the importance of working with the City to reach shared goals, and outlined his plan for a using the AMANDA data to create a more user-friendly and accessible tool.

Chip Rosenthal, chair of Open Austin, provided attendees with a real example of what makes a hack-a-thon project successful. After several attempts to create a tool to connect lost pets with their owners, it wasn’t until the third iteration that the project successfully deployed. Why was this the case? Chip identified community need and resource opportunity as crucial elements for Pet Alerts’ success. The need for people to reconnect with their lost pets always existed, but before the third iteration, the data was unreliable. After the Pet Alerts developers reached out to the City, Animal Services began uploading its animal intake data to the City’s open data portal. The Pet Alerts developers were finally able to match the need with the opportunity, and recently deployed a successful beta application.

Finally, Eric Boggs from the Austin Center for Design, spoke about a unique approach to app development: human centered design. The approach consists of research, synthesis, and prototyping, with each phase incorporating information and insights about the intended users and their needs. These strategies are essential for creating community buy-in and maximizing potential for a successful hack project.

With all this information, six hours of time at the Iron Yard, and plenty of sticky notes, what did we achieve at the Civic Hack Summit? Seventy participants split into 6 groups and generated a wealth of problem statements. Then, each group selected their three favorite statements and presented them to the entire group. Attendees then self-selected into the problem statements they wanted to work on during the afternoon session.

To facilitate the move from a problem statement to a project, we hacked a tool commonly used in the agile methodology called the “business model canvas” with the help of the City and local volunteers. This new “Civic Tech Planning Canvas” gave attendees the framework to develop a successful project plan. As far as we know, this was the first implementation of the Civic Tech Planning Canvas at any hackathon.

Using the canvases, groups created 11 different project proposals within six policy themes, ranging from a noise ordinance mapping tool to a streamlined portal for accessing government services and forms.

  • Development & Land Use
    • Noise Complaints
    • Granny Flats
  • Transportation
    • City Paths Policy Report
    • City Path User App
    • CapMetrics
  • Sustainability
    • Zero Waste Attainment
  • Health & Social Services
    • 211 Data
  • Broadband & Digital Opportunities
    • Streamlined City Portal UX
    • Map My Broadband
  • Civic Engagement
    • Budget Out of the Box
    • Council Connect

But the hacking doesn’t end here. From now until the National Day of Civic Hacking, these projects will be available for the community to develop and refine using the information and ideas produced at the Civic Hack Summit. We were extremely impressed with the 11 projects, and our goal is to help these ideas grow into successful deployment.

If you’d like to connect with one of these projects, please join us at one of our periodic civic hack nights. The next hack night is scheduled for Monday, March 9. Or, join our email list to stay up-to-date on latest news and activity.

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Mar 16

Date: Mon, Mar 16, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Invited Guests:

We’ve invited some out-of-town guests, visiting for SXSW Interactive, to come by our meetup to talk about their work with open government and civic technology. If you are from out-of-town and would like to give an informal lightening talk on a local project or open gov/civic tech activity in your community, please contact chip [at] unicom [dot] com (Chip Rosenthal).

Jennifer Pahlka is the founder and executive director of Code for America. She recently served as the US Deputy Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She is known for her TED talk, Coding a Better Government, and is the recipient of several awards, including the Oxford Internet Institute’s Internet and Society Award, MIT’s Kevin Lynch Award, and National Democratic Institute’s Democracy Award.

Jeff Reichman is a principal at January Advisors, a firm he founded in 2009.  He works on open data and urban planning projects for the City of Houston, and a variety of other technology projects for the public sector.  He is also the co-founder of Open Houston, a community group dedicated to civic innovation.

The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

Open Austin hosts a monthly meet-up, to discuss local open government and civic technology issues. Our meet-ups are free and open to the public.

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Feb 23

Date: Mon, Feb 23, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Mar 3 update: Sharla’s slides are here.

Invited Guest: Sharla Chamberlain, City of Austin, Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs
Topic: Data to Drive Digital Innovation

The City of Austin envisions a community in which every Austin resident has access to the resources and knowledge needed to fully participate in our increasingly digital society. We are working to build a transparent and data-driven informational portal to visualize available resources, identify unmet needs, get information about digital opportunities directly to residents, and learn more about the barriers residents face to access and literacy. Tools and services like website design, interactive mapping, spatial and statistical analysis, database management, graphics, and user interface enhancement will be key to building this portal.

The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

Open Austin hosts a monthly meet-up, to discuss local open government and civic technology issues. Our meet-ups are free and open to the public.

PetAlerts lost pets app released for public testing

When a pet goes missing, it is one of the most distressing experiences a person can have, and there are more questions than answers – where do I look, what should I do, who should I call, and what’s going to happen to my pet? The chances are good that your pet will end up at a shelter, but the infrastructure around notifying pet owners in the community about pet intakes at shelters is currently limited.

Austin has been committed to being a no-kill city since 2011, and while this is a tremendous feat, it puts a lot of stress on the shelters harboring lost pets. From the city perspective, every lost pet is taking sorely needed space in overcrowded shelters – the sooner an animal can be returned home, the more space will be available for additional intakes, and the easier it is for Austin to preserve its no-kill status.

With little infrastructure and an already limited budget, shelters needed an answer. Open Austin has stepped up to help. What originally started as an ATX Hack for Change weekend hackathon project, PetAlerts is now being released for the community at large.

PetAlerts is a web app that allows users to search Austin shelter intakes for their pet, and to subscribe for notifications of new intakes matching their search via email or text message. The beta version only supports pets taken in at the Austin Animal Center, but the app was built with the intention of adding additional sources of information once beta is complete.

In the future, we hope to provide a resource for people to submit lost and found pets to classifieds, search databases for adoptable pets, and get more detailed shelter / location information. Ideally, this app will become the single resource for pets and shelters in the community – with this is mind, we’ve kept the code open source, the app free to use, and the direction of the project open to the public. It’s an app intended to service the community, and we welcome all community participation to make it as useful and ubiquitous as possible.

Obviously, we hope no pet owner will ever have to suffer the stress of losing their pet, but it can and does happen. When pets go missing, we will be there to help reunite them with their people as quickly as possible.

To make great use of this app, visit

We’d love your feedback! Send your bug report using our form,

Code Across Austin V: Civic Hack Summit / Sat, Feb 28

Date: Sat, Feb 28, 2015
Registration: 9:30 – 10:00 am
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Location: The Iron Yard, 3601 South Congress Ave, Bldg C, AustinTX 78704  (map)

The event is free, but seating is limited and advance registration is required: REGISTER NOW

Mar 6 update: event recap posted here.

Feb 27 update: the event program is available  here.

Feb 23 update: added registration hours, 9:30 – 10:00 am. Updated map link to show facility location.

Interested in helping us make this event a success?: Call for Volunteers

The Civic Hack Summit will bring together local developers, designers, project managers, government staff, public policy experts, and citizen advocates to launch a new wave of community-developed civic technology projects for Austin.

At this one-day event, we will explore a number of themes and community needs. The goal is to identify solution and formulate project plans. The projects we initiate here will be developed throughought the year, through events such as the ATX Hack for Change and Open Austin hack nights.

Some of the themes we’d like to explore include:

  • Development and Land Use
  • Transportation
  • Broadband and Digital Opportunities
  • Health and Social Services
  • Sustainability
  • Civic Engagement
  • Crime and Justice

In the morning sessions, local subject-matter experts will brief us on some of the challenges in our community, and help identify some interesting open data and technology opportunities. In the afternoon, we’ll break into workgroups, identify solutions we want to build, and initiate plans for hack projects.

We need non-coders. We need your interest and domain knowledge to help identify the issues we’d like to take on, and what the solutions will look like.

We need coders. We need your expertise to identify technology opportunities and develop architectures for these solutions.

It’s the hack before the hack. If you’ve got interest, skills, and passion for solving community problems with innovative technology solutions, we need your help.

Please re-visit this page periodically. We’ll be adding more information as details develop.

The event is free and open to the public. It is conducted as part of the national “Code Across” weekend, sponsored by Code for America. “Code Across Austin” was launched in 2012 by visiting Code for America fellows. Now produced by Open Austin, the “Civic Hack Summit” will be our fifth “Code Across Austin” event.


Presented by:
City of AustinAustinGO-70x80Austin Monitor logo


Sponsored by:
The Iron Yard logo Code for America Brigade


Community supporters: