Eastern State Penitentiary’s Strangest Prisoner

On August 12, 1924, Eastern State Penitentiary got its most interesting inmate. The prisoner, named Pep, went down for murder and was sentenced to life without possibility of parole. It all sounds like a normal prison story but for one detail: Pep was a dog.

At the time of his incarceration, newspaper headlines claimed that Pep, a black Labrador retriever, received his sentence from Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot himself. According to reports, his murder victim was none other than Mrs. Pinchot’s cat, who he had killed in cold blood, without provocation. He apparently showed no remorse, either.

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The governor was soon inundated with letters protesting the harsh treatment of the dog, who had only acted like a normal dog in their opinion. Eventually, Mrs. Pinchot herself decided to give an interview to the New York Times, explaining the entire story behind Pep’s imprisonment.

Apparently, the story that he was put in jail for killing a cat was completely made up by journalist who wanted to print an interesting story. Pep was really a beloved family pet who had been a gift from Mrs. Pinchot’s nephew, a breeder of Labradors.

About a year after he came to live in the Pinchot household, though, he developed some bad habits. He kept chewing up furniture in the house, and nothing the Pinchots did would get him to stop. They made the difficult decision to give the dog up, but Governor Pinchot had discovered a way to put the friendly dog to use for the benefit of society.

On a trip to Maine, the governor had visited a state penitentiary. While there, he saw that the prison was using dogs as a form of therapy for inmates. The program had proven successful in helping to rehabilitate prisoners, and Governor Pinchot decided to try this in Pennsylvania’s most notorious prison.

Because of Pep’s friendly personality, the governor felt that he would be an excellent therapy dog for Eastern State’s prisoners. When the family decided they couldn’t keep him, he was sent to the prison, where he quickly became well-loved by the prisoners and the guards. He was so popular that he traveled between Eastern State and a newer prison that was opened five years after his own “prison term” began.

Pep remained a prison therapy dog until his death from natural causes. He was buried on the grounds of Graterford Prison.

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