How a Passion for Animals Became a Passion for Software
David Kleven and his partners created AnimalCare Software in 2016, a culmination of years of hands-on experience, knowledge and passion regarding animals. David’s career has primarily focussed on wildlife education outreach programmes and he has served as the education committee chair for the Zoological Association of America until this year. His goal is to give animals in human care the best lives possible, and to further knowledge and understanding that accomplishes that for animals in human care, and their wild counterparts.
I have always felt that great animal welfare begins with the animal care staff that care for animals daily. In college our veterinary instructor instilled in us the importance of being observant and paying attention to details. “How long has this been going on?” is a question that greatly impacts welfare. Was it the day the animal was completely lethargic and unresponsive, or were there subtle signs days or weeks before? Most wild animals innately hide weaknesses, so who is most likely to discover a welfare concern?
Animal care staff are usually the first to see an animal in the morning, and the last to see them at the end of the day. They are responsible for feeding, cleaning, and caring for these animals. Experienced animal care staff are the most likely to notice the smallest changes to animals’ activity level, health signs or behaviour which are the earliest indicators of health and welfare concerns. As someone that cared for animals for 35+ years, I have always known this. The future of providing great welfare will be enhanced by better documenting that information to enhance the passing down of institutional knowledge to future animal care staff.
So how did I start out as someone that cared for animals and end up setting up a company to provide a better way of keeping records? Well it began when my wife Susan and I graduated from the Moorpark College Exotic Animal Training program, and started an outreach education organization in North Texas in 1990. We had in our care about 65 non-releasable native species, and several exotic species that were donated. We maintained our records on paper. These records met our permit requirements but were difficult to find specific information as time passed. We needed a way to maintain easily entered and searchable records on the animals in our care. My very tech savvy father-in-law Mike Henebry had discovered Microsoft Access database and suggested that it would fit our needs well which it did, but I needed a lot of assistance to maintain it.
Fast-forward to 2004, Susan was hired to be the Director of a city owned zoo in Gainesville, Texas. The records there had been maintained on paper and finding detailed history of animals was difficult at best. I set up the database on one of their computers to give them a much better way to maintain records.
Microsoft Access is a powerful tool, but there is a big learning curve to set it up, and it severely lacks in security from users that had access to it. If they started poking around, they could accidentally delete macros written for it to work properly. As an amateur, what I created for the zoo also lacked a lot of functionality that they needed.
In December of 2014, Susan enlisted the assistance of Michael Gagne, to make the database more user friendly. Susan and I were impressed with the improvements that Michael made in such a short amount of time. Susan suggested that we discuss combining our knowledge of animal care and software architecture to create a new record-keeping platform that could be accessed from anywhere on any device. The goal of the new solution would be simplicity and customizability to fit the needs of a diverse set of animal care facilities and capture important information on welfare and husbandry practices which were often lost.
Michael and I, along with partners Frendy Moesa and Alex Jo, and the rest of the AnimalCare Software (ACS) team have surveyed, consulted, and received feedback from people from across the spectrum of the animal care field. We started by asking how animal care staff at different facilities recorded their daily records. We were surprised to learn that the majority of zoological facilities polled still recorded daily reports on paper or spreadsheets. We identified what types of information were important to facilities to collect daily and asked what we could do to help animal care staff do their jobs more efficiently.
To make sure we met the needs for communication between animal care staff, and supervisors in decision making positions, we talked to various supervisors, curators, registrars, veterinarians, and zoo directors to find out what was most important to them. The answer? Make the data easily searchable, secure, current and easy to train staff to use.
During the research and development process, Michael and I repeatedly heard that the time and expense of training staff to implement a record-keeping system was a big barrier to having all levels of animal care staff use other available solutions. Thus, AnimalCare was created to be intuitive and requires little to no training for all levels of staff.
Our Welfare Management Tool within the software was developed in partnership with zoos, aquariums, universities, and significantly Dr. Isabella Clegg. Dr. Clegg has developed All-Animal Individual and Group Welfare Templates which are based on the 5 domains. A tool designed to assist with detailed tracking of individual animals during; neonate feedings and growth, hormone cycles, medical recovery, stereotypic behaviour patterns, quality of life assessment and more. The tool also features goal settings and real-time reporting.
As someone that worked directly with animals, I never thought I would get as passionate about data. In the fall of 2020, ACS rolled out our Welfare Management Tool 1.0. The feedback has been tremendous and valuable. Several facilities are using our software to study an array of welfare related issues. One animal carer could see that over handling of a pregnant three-banded armadillo seemed to have an effect on her. They would draw blood and perform ultrasounds to determine where she was in her reproductive cycle. The carer came up with a more hands off approach by creating a custom score of measuring the amount of vulva swelling, and a few ways to measure behaviour and response to staff. The results showed that by tracking that data, they could predict when she was receptive for breeding, pregnant, and was about to give birth.
I am amazed at what providing a tool for passionate animal care staff has resulted in when they can document what they can measure and write down what they believe to be going on. The data can verify if what they believe is true. I am hearing all the time about what is being learned, but even more importantly, shared. We often think we are doing what is best for animals in our care because “this is the way it’s always been done.” I am a big believer in always striving to learn more and do even better. What we learn about animals in human care, will lead to a better understanding of animals in the wild.
Just like welfare science continues to develop, so does our software. We want to invite anyone with an interest in improving animal welfare to check out what we are building. Readers can learn more at www.animalcaresoftware.com, or email email@example.com for a demonstration.
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