The Reentry Project

This Germantown native helps Philly dogs get adopted and takes strays off the streets

Steve Morales began working with dogs when he was in prison. Now he’s full time at ACCT.

Animal control officer Steven Morales received the inspiration award at the JEVS Human Services 19th Annual Strictly Business Awards

Animal control officer Steven Morales received the inspiration award at the JEVS Human Services 19th Annual Strictly Business Awards

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Animal control officer Steven Morales’ schedule changes constantly. From replying to complaints to responding to calls about stranded animals, he doesn’t have a typical day at Philly’s Animal Care & Control Team. Though it can get hectic at times, the work he does can be rewarding and something he wants to continue to do.

JEVS Human Services held its 19th Annual Strictly Business Awards late last week, where Morales received the inspiration award for working hard and continuing on a positive path, despite his challenging past. JEVS helps people with physical, emotional and developmental challenges, as well as those who are unemployed or underemployed.

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It was not an easy road for Morales to get where he is now. The Germantown resident has lived in the city all his life, but found himself in prison in his early 20s and spent part of the next two decades in and out of prison on drug charges.

While behind bars, Morales was able to connect with JEVS Human Services and a program called New Leash on Life, which teaches inmates to care for and socialize at-risk shelter dogs to enhance their adoptability.

Morales socialized, trained and rehabilitated a rescue dog named Pavlov for eventual adoption. Once released, Morales started as an intern with New Leash on Life and worked in different positions before landing a job as an animal control officer with ACCT.

Before the awards ceremony, Morales discussed his current job as an animal control officer, his introduction to New Leash on Life and his plans moving forward.

Morals with Lilac, one of the dogs being trained for adoption

Morales with Lilac, one of the dogs being trained for adoption

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

What does your day-to-day look like as an animal control officer?

Some days I do complaints where people call us and make complaints about things that they see, and we go out and investigate it and make a determination about what should be done. Sometimes it’s just a neighbors dispute. Sometimes it might be someone letting their dog out into the streets and they’re calling us to do something about it.

Sometimes I’m responding to actual situational calls. The police call us all the time, fire department calls us all the time, PGW calls us all the time. Anything that the police do that involves animals, they’ll call us to get the dogs. All kinds of crazy situations — the same for the fire department. When there are fires and there are animals in the home, they’ll call us. Like, everyday it’s something crazy. And then we deal with strays. Some people get raccoons in the house and that’s crazy because raccoons are always crazy.

What are some of the challenges that you face?

There’s a lot of challenges, we have a crazy schedule that we have to deal with. You’re also accountable for a lot. Just on a regular shift, you have to drive, you have to keep a log and you have to be aware. When you’re working with these other city agencies you have to be on point, because people are relying on you to know what you’re doing. It’s something that you have to work on and develop, it was a challenge for me but a good one. Another challenge is just working with people and getting along with people because people’s personalities are not always the same and that’s a challenge in itself.

Were you skeptical at first when you first learned about a program that would let you work with dogs?

No, as soon as I heard about it I jumped on it. The funny thing is, everyone else was like, “the hell with that.” They didn’t even want anything to do with it. I like dogs, so when they were saying you live with a dog for three months in your cell and they basically teach you how to train a dog, that was a no-brainer for me because I didn’t want to be in jail, I wanted to go home and I was picturing myself in a cell with a dog learning how to train it.

Are there any other animals that you work with besides dogs?

We actually have a department that specializes in cats, but we do deal with them also. Dogs, cats, raccoons, you name it. The only thing we don’t deal with are fox and deer. The game commission deals with that. I’ve worked with so many dogs. Before I became an animal control officer, when I was a kennel attendant, I used to work with the behavioral evaluators. When you’re a behavioral evaluator you basically have a one-on-one meeting with every single dog that comes through.

Do you see your job as an animal control officer a lifelong career?

Oh yeah. Right now, I’m having fun doing this. I feel comfortable and I’m still learning and I really don’t want to do anything else now. At some point in time I probably will want to look to do something greater and bigger. I definitely see that, just right now I think I’m in a good place at this moment and I just want to soak this in and get as much out of it as I can.


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