Center City: Morris Animal Refuge Serves the Community

Anthony Wessel is the lifesaving manager at the Morris Animal Refuge, a nonprofit animal welfare services organization in Philadelphia. Morris Animal Refuge was America’s very first animal shelter, founded in 1874 by Elizabeth Morris, one of the country’s early animal welfare advocates.

Morris Animal Refuge provides care for abused, neglected and abandoned animals throughout the Philadelphia region. Upon moving to Philadelphia, Wessel started as a volunteer at a local animal shelter. However, after he started fostering neglected animals, Wessel left his job in finance to work in animal welfare. Wessel is currently responsible for the foster care program and the medical procedures provided at the Morris Animal Refuge.

Anthony Wessel sits at his desk at the Morris Animal Refuge in Old City, Philadelphia.

How does the Morris Animal Refuge spread awareness about the humane treatment of animals in Philadelphia?

We do a couple of adoptive events a week and we have cats at the PetSmart on Chestnut Street. In early March, there is our event called Fur-Ball. It is a huge fundraiser for us and provides basic care for animals in the shelter. We also offer spray-and-neuter services here. We work with local veterinarians in the area. Someone could buy a voucher for spray-and-neuter here and the veterinarian will honor it. It’s affordable spray-and-neuter and the best way to combat the overpopulation of cats in Philadelphia.

Giving up an animal to a refugee for care can be difficult for pet owners who are no longer able to care for their pets, so how does Morris help the person decide on surrendering an animal? 

We are open intake and are not contracted to be. This means we will not turn an animal away and that is something that has been a part of Morris since it was founded. We try to persuade people to keep the animal, but some people will try to surrender an animal for various different reasons. Sometimes it’s because of the landlord, or financial reasons. When someone comes here with a sick animal without money for treatment, we will treat it for them and try to persuade people to keep the animal. We have a lot of people come who need food for their animals. Pretty much we will do anything to keep that animal in the home. At the end of the day, if we can’t persuade them, we take them in.

How should the state government improve in providing for protections against animal cruelty?

Pennsylvania has made huge headway with animal laws. Lawmakers have made a lot of improvements with what’s considered a felony with regard towards cruelty towards animals. We still have a long way to go. Pennsylvania seems to be lacking on animal laws more than most states.

A groomer sits beside a pet food donation station at the Morris Animal Refuge.

What would you like to see legislation improve on?

I would like legislation to improve puppy mills, especially in Lancaster County. The treatment of dogs, especially the breeding of females, is horrendous. Their whole lives are spent in a wire crate the size of a dishwasher and they never see grass.

A sheltered dog at the Morris Animal Refuge wakes up from a nap.

Is there anything City Council could do to expand on with regard to animal treatment?

The City Council needs to be primarily dealing with cruelty and neglect in coordination with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If we want to see a change in the way animals are treated, we need to take them away from people who shouldn’t have them. I think more money needs to be filtered there.

-Text and images by Robert Cochran and Nadege Richards

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