Back in the 1920’s, a dog received a life sentence for murder; yes it’s true. “Pep the Black,” a Labrador retriever allegedly killed the cat of his owner’s wife.
That’s what the public was told anyway.
The newspapers at the time in Philadelphia embellished the story of this cruel pup. News of Pep’s alleged crime spread halfway around the world, and the Lab’s reputation was destroyed. But the end of this story sees everything made right.
Our story starts in 1924, at the Philadelphia eastern state Penitentiary. This prison was the largest and most expensive one of its kind. Before the construction of this particular establishment, convicts weren’t rehabilitated but punished in the form of hard labor for their crimes.
Here, at eastern, isolation was first used as a rehabilitation tool. Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot believed inmates could be reformed. Solitary confinement wasn’t the way to change them.
Governor Pinchot and his family bred labradors; one of their dogs was Pep. Pep wasn’t known for being well-behaved, but he was a fun-loving lad with loads of love and affection for his owners. Like most Labradors, the pooch enjoyed chewing and shredding furniture.
The governor “sentenced” Pep to the term of life in prison at eastern. Creating the backstory about the dog killing the cat would be more accepted by the public rather than saying the top man in the state was donating a therapy dog to boost the morale of staff and inmates alike.
Fortunately, prison staff played along. Pep had a mug shot taken. Inmate C2559 wasn’t confined to a cell like his human comrades but allowed free roaming privileges throughout the penitentiary. Pep’s presence did what his former owner hoped; he cheered everyone in the prison for ten years.
Pep’s reputation was restored in a 1926 article published by the New York Times. Mrs. Pinchot cleared the pup’s name. The Times described Pep as an “amiable Irish Setter.” Pep’s mugshot shows a black Labrador. Despite the error, Pep lived out the rest of his life lifting the spirits of eastern staff and jailbirds.
Eastern State closed in 1971, but no one can forget the legacy left by Pep, the pioneer prison pup.
Pep’s presence inspired change throughout the US. Inmates today have access to prison animal programs. They learn compassion, hone skills, and earn privileges or wages. This is a win-win setup for the animals too. If not taken in by these prison programs, they would be euthanized.
Having dogs with them in prison has a lasting impact on the convicts as well. A study published in the Journal of Family Social Work found inmates in two Kansas prisons showed high emotional and behavioral benefits. The nationwide recidivism rate hovers around 50 percent according to the Pontiac Tribune.
We’re sure Pep is somewhere in doggie heaven wagging his tail. It took one dog almost 90 years ago to create change throughout the United states.
Numerous prisons today have prison animal programs where convicts interact with dogs. In turn, the pooches change the lives of the humans who train them as service dogs or companion animals for those with disabilities and other special needs.
Have you directly experienced how dogs can boost the morale and moods of its humans?