Pep the Prison Dog

In 1924 a black Scotch retriever received terrible news: he was sentenced to life in prison. Pep, a friendly male dog said to be good-natured, was being sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania for the alleged crime of killing the governors wife’s cat. He was brought to the prison, had his mugshot taken and a prisoner number issued to him, and taken to meet the other inmates.

Life behind bars, taken by John McGuire, found on Flickr.

Pep, aka Prisoner C2559, wasn’t assigned a cell, but rather slept in the cell of his choice each night. He reported every morning for rollcall and supposedly took his work assignments with no complaints. He stayed in the prison from August 31, 1924, until his death.

The truth behind the tale

Pep was absolutely a real dog who lived in the prison in 1924. However, he was never sentenced to life in prison and according to Mrs. Pinchot, the governor’s wife, had never killed any cat, let alone hers.

Pep was sent to the Eastern State Penitentiary primarily as a morale boost. In the years up to 1924, the prison had issues with security, overcrowding, and general morale. Some improvements were made, such as new watchtowers and a new communal prisoner cafeteria. However, the Governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot, had recently heard about an odd improvement to a prison in Maine, and had decided to emulate it. He would send in a dog to improve the morale of the prisoners. The mugshot and prisoner number were a joke, as was the entry listing Pep’s crime as “murder.” The joke proved to be in poor taste, and stayed international protests.

Pep stayed at the prison for roughly (2) years before being retired to the farm branch of the prison, SCI Graterford. He remained there until his death.

Want to know more? Check out: Eastern State’s article about animals in prison

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Jackie Standaert

I'm an office worker by day, a historian by night. At some point, I'll have enough money saved to get my Ph.D. in History, but for now, my B.A. will have to do.

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