The Norman Transcript

October 13, 2012

City animal shelter enters modern era

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The cultural image of the evil dog catcher portrayed in many movies and cartoons is not an accurate depiction of the dedicated staff at the Norman Animal Shelter. Animal Welfare Supervisor John Bowman and his staff work hard to protect the animals under their care and to reunite lost pets with their owners.

Now that job, and many of the other jobs of the animal control staff, has gotten a lot easier. Chameleon, a new computer system designed especially for animal control needs, has been up and running for about a month and Bowman and his staff continue to discover the wide range of possibilities for using that software system and its complementary hardware.

“Chameleon is records management for animal welfare, and we’re still tailoring it for what we want,” Bowman said. “It has a lot more capabilities than we’re using right now.”

But the implementation has already made a major difference in the way Norman Animal Welfare does business.

Under the old system when an animal was picked up, city animal control staff filled out records by hand and an animal was recorded in a book. As much information as possible was recorded in order to help identify the animal.

“If you called in to tell me your animal was missing, I had to use a different form,” Bowman said. “We had to manually look through the book to see if maybe it was there.”

If no match was found in the book, the lost pet forms were hung on the wall.

“Now we have Chameleon which is a database,” Bowman said.

While Bowman still recommends coming into the shelter and looking at the animals to make sure your lost pet is not in custody as the best means of identifying your pet, the database and computer web sites have made reuniting pets with their owners much more efficient.

When animals are picked up now, they are entered into the database along with a photo of the animal. Those photos and descriptions go online at Pet Harbor and Pet Finder websites. On the Pet Harbor website, an owner with a missing dog can enter the zipcode or city name and check the animals in area shelters, including Norman.

When entering a new dog into the system, Bowman and his staff can check the virtual kennel and see what space is available. Bar codes allow the city staff to match animals with the cages they are in and to easily change that on a daily basis if needed. That makes locating a lost dog or cat easier and allows for staff to see what vacancies are available for making assignments of a new animal.

When an owner calls in to report a missing pet, city staff can quickly check to see if an animal of that description has been logged into the system. Those records stay in the system for 14 days and make for easy matching.

If a pet is gone longer than 14 days, the owner can call and ask for the lost pet to remain in the system for additional time. Dogs or cats that were found and are being kept in the home of the person who found them can also be entered into the system.

“Everything in our system pushes out every hour to PetFinder and Pet Harbor,” Bowman said.

The new software also allows for records of volunteers, and can push out electronic communications such as notifications of pet renewal licenses coming due.

Records of adoptions or which animals were given to rescue groups can also be tracked through the new system. Any animal’s medical treatment and other details can also be logged and tracked. Staff now run a daily missing animal report to check against animals in custody. In the field, animals with a city pet tag or a microchip can be checked for ownership records before the animal is brought into the shelter.

Routine items like administering medicine or the surgery schedule for the spay or neuter of a pet to be adopted can be scheduled with the new system. A report each day allows staff to appropriately administer medicines. There’s even a teaching application using a television screen in the surgical room that is part of the system.

Chameleon is transforming the way the Norman Animal Welfare staff does business. More lost pets will be returned home, care will be more efficient and, hopefully, more stray animals will find happy, permanent homes.

Joy Hampton366-3539jhampton@normantranscript.com

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