Eastern State Penitentiary to host ‘Family Weekend: Pets in Prison'

Eastern State Penitentiary will host “Family Weekend: Pets in Prison” on Saturday and Sunday, August 9 and 10 and again on September 27 and 28. The event, designed for kids and adults of all ages, will feature interactive and educational activities all weekend long. Visitors can learn about the role of animals throughout Eastern State’s history, meet (and adopt) shelter dogs from a local prison-training program, and participate in animal-themed activities.

From 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., families can participate in an animal-themed scavenger hunt; learn more about Eastern State Penitentiary’s most famous four-legged resident, Pep the Dog; and learn about other animals throughout the prison’s history. Some furry (and some creepy-crawly) creatures once lived behind Eastern State Penitentiary’s walls. Some prisoners kept pets in solitary confinement, and a colony of feral cats occupied the property when the prison was abandoned. Officers once patrolled the grounds on horseback and kept German Shepherds for security.

Beginning at 1:00 p.m. each day, Norberto “Rob” Rosa, Director of Operations for New Leash on Life USA, a Pennsylvania prison dog training program, will speak to visitors about his experience training dogs as an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford (SCIG), and how it ultimately affected his life and career. This 15-minute presentation will be followed by a brief Q&A. Several dogs, trained by local inmates, will demonstrate for visitors the commands and tricks they have learned through the New Leash on Life USA program.

Following the presentation, visitors to the historic site can meet the dogs and, if interested, can adopt any dogs that haven’t yet found homes. On Saturday, Aug. 9, an additional adoption meet-and-greet will take place in the entrance to the penitentiary at from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.

All Family Weekend activities are included in standard admission. Regular daytime programs, including “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, guided Hands-On History tours, history exhibits, and artist installations, are also included in admission. Tickets are available online at easternstate.org/tickets. Tickets are also available at the door, subject to availability.

New Leash on Life USA is a Pennsylvania 501(c)(3) nonprofit prison dog training program, dedicated to improving the life of inmates and saving the lives of dogs. For more information, visit www.newleashonlife-usa.org

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue. For more information and schedules, the public should call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.easternstate.org.