💌 Do you like Philly? Sign up for Billy Penn’s free newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
If Jess Thedinga isn’t saving cats or pulling snakes out of people’s homes, she’s probably on your For You page.
Thedinga, who has more than 420,000 followers on TikTok as @ACOJess, uses the platform to teach people about her job as an animal control officer in Philadelphia. Over the past year, she has posted videos saving animals and educating people about the importance of wildlife in Philadelphia.
She has also written two children’s books based on real rescue stories. His second book, “Helping Pets Home”, is available now for pre-order on Starter.
The book details four animal stories she helped and posted on TikTok – the most famous being the “skinless” (hairless) cat named Bowie, which ended up getting 13 million views. His goal with all of this is to portray people in his position in a more positive light.
“The whole point of writing the books was to write a message about how friendly animal control officers are,” Thedinga told Billy Penn. “We are here to help and we love animals.”
Her first book, “ACO Jess and Friends Racoon Rescue,” was released in December. It highlights the dangers of litter and the misconceptions about raccoons. (For example, just because they’re out during the day doesn’t mean they’re sick.)
Writing that first book wasn’t easy, but Thedinga turned to her friend Paris Graman, owner of project management consultancy Empower Creative Agency. Gramann helped Thedinga with all the details: finding illustrators, writing a first draft, creating a logo, forming an LLC.
Together they were able to complete the book in a year, which is a quick turnaround, Gramann said.
Gramann, who also helped Ya Fav Trashman with his book “I’m cool too” said Philadelphia seems to be full of people presenting the realities of their work as a way to de-stigmatize essential work.
“Philly is an interesting place where there are cool people doing cool things,” Gramann said. “It’s interesting that some people choose children’s books as an outlet.”
Using Mean Comments as an Excuse to Educate
Originally from North Jersey, Thedinga served as a police dispatcher for 13 years before becoming an animal control officer. The career move came after a friend of his, who was himself an ACO, urged the animal lover to get certified.
In 2019, after moving to Philadelphia, Thedinga got a job with Camden-based Independent Animal Care Services. Last December, she began working as ACO for ACCT Philly.
Thedinga hesitantly started posting on TikTok at the start of the pandemic, after calls from her friend Tammy Kelsh to join the app. Kelsh, who had been on TikTok for a few months, said she knew people would love videos of Thedinga saving cute animals. She wasn’t wrong.
“She got really nervous at first because there’s a lot of pressure that goes with it — and there’s a lot of mean people there,” Kelsh said.
Together, Thedinga and Kelsh moved past the mean comments and tried to turn them into a positive.
Some comments accuse Thedinga of harming the animals she rescued by taking them out of the wild. Then other people will respond with common misconceptions they have about wildlife. Thendinga responds to these comments by using videos to educate people about what really happens to animals once they are in ACO custody.
“I see now that it is my duty to continue to show the positive side of my work. The more people who can view my career in that light, the better,” Thedinga said. “I just wish one day someone would stop asking me if I hurt an animal.”
Eventually, Thedinga hopes to turn her books into an animated film to really spread the word.