Pep (dog)

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Pep (inmate C-2559) mugshot.jpg
Mugshot of Pep, 1924
Species Canis familiaris
Breed Labrador Retriever [lower-alpha 1]
Bornc. 1923
Died1930 (aged 6–7)
Graterford, Pennsylvania, US
OccupationPrison dog, therapy dog
Training Rat-catching
Residence Grey Towers
Years active1924–1930
Known forFalsely accused of murdering a cat
Criminal status Pardoned (1929)
Conviction(s) Murder
Criminal penalty Life sentence [lower-alpha 2]
State(s) Pennsylvania
Date apprehended
August 1924
Imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary

Pep (c. 1923 – 1930) was a black Labrador Retriever [lower-alpha 1] who was falsely accused of murdering a cat. [1] He belonged to Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot and was sent to live alongside the inmates of the Eastern State Penitentiary in August 1924. Pep was given inmate number C-2559 and had both his mugshot and pawprints taken. While he was logged into the prison ledger as having received a life sentence for murder, in reality he was given to the prison by Pinchot to boost the morale of the inmates.


Governor Pinchot was inspired to give Pep to the penitentiary after Maine governor Percival Baxter sent his collie "Governor" to the Thomaston State Prison. Newspaper articles following the arrival of Pep at the prison wrongly characterized him as a "cat-murderer" who had been sentenced to life in prison by the governor. The governor received hundreds to thousands of letters complaining about his apparent ill-treatment of the animal. Pep lived at the penitentiary for several years. He chased rats in the prison corridors and had to be put on a diet in his later years. He was later transferred to the Graterford Prison Farm and died in 1930.

Early life

Pep was a Labrador Retriever [lower-alpha 1] born around 1923 and given as a gift to Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot from the nephew of his wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot. Pep joined the Pinchot family at Grey Towers residence in Milford, Pennsylvania, during the governor's first term. According to Pinchot, "He belonged to my son, Giff, [lower-alpha 3] and was distinguished by the fact that he was anybody's and everybody's dog." [5] Pep was described by Pinchot in a July 1924 letter as "about a year and a half old, exceedingly friendly and good-natured, rather unusually intelligent, and very quiet", [7] [4] though he chewed on the cushions of the sofa that sat on the front porch. [8]

Pinchot was inspired by the example set by Maine governor Percival Baxter, who had recently sent his collie "Governor" to the Thomaston State Prison to serve as a therapy dog. [8] Pinchot also described feeling "over-dogged" after receiving a new lot of puppies. [4] The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia had become overcrowded and the inmates had low morale. [7] Cornelia Pinchot made a telephone call to Colonel John C. Broome, the warden of the penitentiary, to ask if the prisoners would like a dog as a pet. [9] Governor Pinchot wrote a letter to the warden on July 29, 1924, offering up Pep to the institution. [7]


Pep was taken to the penitentiary in August 1924. He was received in "due and ancient form", [5] and on August 31 was given the inmate number C-2559, had his mugshot and paw prints taken, [10] and was entered into the official prison ledger. His entry listed his crime as murder, his alias as "A Dog", and his sentence as life imprisonment. [11] The prison's supervisor of rehabilitation, E. Preston Sharp, provided a transcript of Pep's formal citation in the prison ledger, "C-2559. Pep. (A dog.) Received 8-31-'24. From Pike County, Pa. All black, Chesapeake retriever. Sent by Governor Gifford Pinchot. 'To Life term for killing the governor's pet cat." [5]

Allegations of cat-murder

Following Pep's arrival at the penitentiary, newspapers picked up on the story, seizing on the detail that the dog had been sent to prison for killing one of the governor's cats. Pep was characterized as a "cat-murdering dog" and journalists embellished the tale with claims that the cat had belonged to his wife or that there had been a trial where Pinchot served as judge and jury. [12]

Pinchot wrote to the newspapers to clarify that Pep had not killed a cat and was sent to the penitentiary so that "the lot of the prisoners would be lightened". [13] Despite his clarification, the governor received hundreds to thousands of letters about the imprisonment of the dog. [14] He relayed that:

Some newspaperman drawing strictly and solely on his imagination, wrote a story to the effect that the dog had been condemned to prison because he killed a cat. That wretched tale went, literally, all over the world. I got letters from every quarter of the globe, denouncing my inhuman cruelty in 'condemning the poor beast to imprisonment merely because he had followed his instincts'. These letters came largely, to judge from the handwriting, from ladies of a certain age. They kept coming, all through the rest of my term. I never saw a better illustration of the impossibility of catching up with a lie—harmless as this lie was intended to be. [5]

Pinchot would read some of the letters to his family, with one of the best concluding "any day, any dog is better than any politician anyway." [2]

Cornelia Pinchot later tried to clear up the misconception that Pep was sentenced to life in prison. In a January 1926 New York Times article she was quoted as saying "Why, Pep never killed anything or anybody. The report of his crime has circled half around the world, and the governor and I have received volumes of letters, telegrams, resolutions and petitions complaining of the cruelty of cooping the dog up in prison." [15] [14]

Periodically, the mugshot of Pep with a prisoner number would reappear in print. Pinchot's son also wrote to local newspapers in an attempt to correct the misinformation about Pep being a cat-murderer. [12]

Life in prison

Boston Daily Globe photograph of Pep with prison guards during a 1925 radio broadcast from the penitentiary Pep Boston Daily Globe 1925.jpg
Boston Daily Globe photograph of Pep with prison guards during a 1925 radio broadcast from the penitentiary

Pep wandered the prison and the grounds freely and was well-liked by both prisoners and guards. He served as a mascot for the prison and was intended to boost the morale of the prisoners as a therapy dog. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer opined "No despairing man brooding in his cell can feel that he is forgotten by God and man, who will feel Pep's loving tongue caressing his languid hand." [16] [17]

In 1925, Pep was featured in a radio program that was broadcast from the penitentiary and aired on WIP. The Boston Daily Globe published an article on December 26, 1925, with a photograph of Pep sitting in front of a radio microphone while surrounded by prison guards. [11]

Pep accompanied guards on their nightly rounds and excelled at catching rats in the prison corridors. According to Sharp he "was quite fast for his size and weight (weight unknown, though heavy); being the equal of smaller and lighter dogs." [5] In addition to the rats and his regular meals, Pep was fed morsels by inmates and guards alike. He gained weight and by 1927 was put on a diet. [18] Pinchot visited the prison and Pep on several occasions. The governor related that he had seen Pep "in the penitentiary a number of times, and he was fat and healthy. But toward the end of his career he developed a partiality toward the officials of the institution and was with them more than with the prisoners." [5]

Pep stayed at Eastern State Penitentiary until as late as 1929. [lower-alpha 4] During his later time at the prison, he may have joined work crews sent to construct the Graterford Prison Farm, about 30 mi (48 km) north of Philadelphia, established in 1929. [3] Pep's time at the penitentiary probably did not coincide with that of Al Capone, who was transferred there on August 8, 1929. [19]

Pep grew close to J. C. Burke, a captain of the Night Guard. In 1929, Pep was "pardoned" and transferred to the prison farm in Graterford. A 1935 newspaper article related that Pep had grown "too fat and unwieldy and ancient for active prison service" and was "allowed to spend the rest of his days at the home of a retired guard who begged leave to care for him in his old age." [5] Pep died in May or June 1930 [20] and was buried in a flower bed on prison grounds. [5] [21] A wooden marker was placed on the grave but was later swept away in a flash flood. [22]

The Eastern State Penitentiary, later converted to a museum, has a placard for Pep as one of the "notable inmates" and sells stuffed animals of the dog in its shop. [14]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Most contemporary sources refer to Pep as a Labrador Retriever. [2] [3] Pinchot himself referred to the dog as a "black Scotch retriever", [4] while newspaper articles from the 1920s and 1930s often refer to him as a black Chesapeake Bay Retriever [5] or an Irish Setter. [6]
  2. Pep was entered into the prison ledger as having committed the crime of murder and as having a life sentence, but was actually given to the prison as a working dog.
  3. Pinchot's son, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, was born in 1915.
  4. According to the Eastern State Penitentiary website, Pep only stayed there two years before being sent to Graterford. [7]

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