Whether you learned about it in history class or, at the very least, from the iconic movie of the same name, there are very few people who don’t know the story of the RMS Titanic, the luxury ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. More than 1500 people died in the disaster, but they weren’t the only casualties. The ship carried at least twelve dogs, only three of which survived.
First-class passengers often traveled with their pets. The Titanic was equipped with a first-rate kennel and the dogs were well-cared for, including daily exercise on deck. There was even an informal dog show scheduled for April 15, which, sadly, never took place. Aside from the kenneled dogs, some first-class passengers kept pets in their staterooms, with the crew turning a blind eye.
How Many Dogs Survived the Titanic?
The three dogs that survived had a few things in common: they were being kept in staterooms, not in the kennel, and they were tiny. They were taken into lifeboats by their owners, most likely wrapped in blankets or tucked under a coat.
- Lady: a Pomeranian purchased by Margaret Bechstein Hays, in Paris. Her owner took Lady, wrapped in a blanket, aboard Lifeboat 7.
- Sun Yat Sen: a Pekingese belonging to Myra and Henry S. Harper, publishing magnate. The couple and their dog were on Lifeboat 3. According to J. Joseph Edgette, a historian at Widener University and curator of a museum exhibit about the Titanic, Mr. Harper said, “There seemed to be lots of room, and nobody made any objection.”
- Another Pomeranian: owned by Martin and Elizabeth Jane Rothschild. Mrs. Rothschild hid the dog until the following morning when those on Lifeboat 6 were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. The crew initially refused to take the dog on board, but Mrs. Rothschild insisted. Mr. Rothschild didn’t survive the shipwreck.
How Many Dogs Died in the Titanic?
History records at least nine other canine passengers, although there may have been more. For the most part, they were larger dogs that were staying in the ship’s kennel. Someone, possibly a passenger, freed the dogs from the kennel as the ship was sinking. The agitated dogs ran up and down the listing deck, adding to the chaos. Although some of these dogs weren’t identified, we do know something about several of them.
There were a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and an Airedale Terrier, both owned by the children of William Carter, a coal magnate from Philadelphia. Lloyd’s of London later reimbursed the family for the loss. Interesting side note: according to an article by The Today Show, the love scene between Rose and Jack in the movie, “Titanic,” took place in a replica of the Carter’s 1912 Renault.
The millionaire John Jacob Astor lost his Airedale, Kitty, in the disaster as well. Among the other dogs lost were a fox terrier, a Chow Chow, and others whose breeds are unknown.
Another casualty was a champion French Bulldog, Gamin de Pycombe, whose owner had purchased him in England before the voyage. A week after The Titanic sank, New York hosted the French Bulldog National Specialty. One of the show’s judges on the day was Samuel Goldenberg, who had boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg in order to get to New York to be a judge.
Stories From the Titanic
An apocryphal story describes a Newfoundland named Rigel that belonged to First Officer William Murdoch. According to the story, which even appeared in the New York Herald newspaper, Rigel withstood the freezing North Atlantic waters and barked to get the attention of the Carpathia’s crew, which helped the rescuers locate the lifeboats. However, according to the Smithsonian and other sources, there is no record of Rigel anywhere, including survivors’ accounts. The story didn’t stand up to fact-checking and has largely been discounted.
There is one story, however, that is both true and heartbreaking. One passenger, Ann Elizabeth Isham, boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg with her Great Dane. She refused to leave the ship without her dog, which was too big to go on a lifeboat. Ms. Isham was one of four first-class female passengers who died on the Titanic. There are accounts, although unsubstantiated, that her body, with her arms wrapped around the dog, was later found by a recovery ship.
When we think of the devastating losses suffered 108 years ago this April, let’s take a minute to think of the beloved pets that were part of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, the lucky three who survived and the many who, along with fifteen hundred human passengers, perished in the icy waters off the Newfoundland coast.