The escape was so traumatic that Cory Donovan remembers what day of the week it was, even though it was four years ago. It was a Tuesday.

Donovan had just come home from work at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council in Virginia and, as he did every day, let his Doberman mixes Raven and Lula out to do their business in the fenced-in backyard.

When he went to bring them in, he lived every pet owner's nightmare: "They weren't there."

A landscaper presumably had not secured the gate when he left that day. Raven and Lula saw opportunity.

Eventually, after the dogs were found - one in less than an hour, the other 24 agonizing hours later - so did Donovan.

Now living in Haddon Township with his veterinarian wife, Julie Sanders, Donovan, who is manager of the Project Liberty Digital Incubator, has developed an Amber Alert app of sorts for missing pets.

FurAlert's iPhone version was released in October; an Android version followed in January. One basic principle is at its core, he said: "From an animal-welfare perspective, time and distance are the enemy."

FurAlert's success will depend on the reach of its network. In other words, the pet owner who uses the app to report a missing dog or cat needs others in the vicinity to see the alert.

"The idea is the eyeballs near you are the best resource," said Donovan, 41, whose job at Project Liberty includes advising digital start-ups on product development and financing.

Unlike GPS-equipped collars, his app is free and enables each user to enter pets' pictures and descriptions (sex, weight, age, microchip presence, and personality traits), as well as whether a reward is offered. A map showing where the missing animal was last seen also will display, along with how the owner should be contacted if the pet is found (email, text, or phone call).

Anyone who has downloaded the FurAlert app (available at, the iPhone app store, or Google Play) and is in the designated radius of the missing pet - the default radius is two miles - will receive an alert with all those details.

"The goal with this is when you get [an alert], you know that pet is near you and you're going to pay attention to it," Donovan said.

From others in the start-up community, he said, he has heard what he would have told anyone coming to him with an app like this: "Building this hyperlocal network is challenging. There's not this path to monetization."

Without a sizable marketing budget, Donovan said, he has been building a network of users through guerrilla marketing, such as attending a pet-adoption event recently in Cherry Hill, and meeting with municipal officials, veterinary offices, animal-rescue groups, pet stores, and dog walkers. He would not disclose how many apps have been downloaded, only that "the overwhelming response is very positive."

The next hurdle will be raising capital to help with marketing and app upgrades.

"It's got to be sort of a social-impact investor," he said. "The missing-pet market is not a hugely profitable one. The investor has to see it from the social impact, animal welfare, or human impact/anxiety part of it."

Donovan does envision securing paid sponsorships from businesses whose brands align with FurAlert's mission, such as pet stores and pet-food producers.

Among FurAlert's users is Jaclyn Clement, a small-animal veterinarian in Lynchburg, Va., who met Donovan's wife in veterinary school at Virginia Tech several years ago but didn't learn of FurAlert until after she experienced a scare of her own.

Two weeks after Clement brought home Fawkes, a rescue foxhound cross, in May, he got spooked while on a leashed walk and broke free from her husband's grasp.

Fawkes was embedded with a microchip, but that's only helpful if an animal is found and can be scanned.

"We put up posters all over the place and prayed," Clement said. "It was very scary."

An extremely skittish dog, Fawkes stayed in hiding for two weeks, eventually turning up about 21/2 miles from home. He was a few pounds lighter, covered in ticks, and had been eating cat food left on a porch at a house on the edge of some woods.

Fawkes and Clement's two domestic shorthair cats, Abby and Gizmo, are now entered on FurAlert.

So are Jen Leary's two dogs, a German shepherd-chow mix and a pitbull-boxer mix. Leary, of Point Breeze, founded the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team nearly five years ago to aid Philadelphia families with pets undergoing a residential disaster, such as a fire, building collapse, or gas leak.

In such instances, FurAlert could mean the difference between life and death for a pet, Leary said: "A lot of times once they get loose, they just start running because they're so scared."

"We've had several instances where the dogs wound up getting hit by cars. If there's a mechanism in place that can alert people immediately, there's a better chance of wrangling up the dog before something else happens."