The fact that there were dogs traveling on the Titanic with their owners would come as no surprise to anyone who considers it. However, with all that has been written about the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, little has been written about the dogs who were passengers.
Dedicated research by J. Joseph Edgette, Ph.D., Widener University professor emeritus, has revealed the story of the canine passengers.
Dogs of First Class Passengers Only
Only first class passengers were permitted to travel with their animals. Most of the dogs were kept in kennels on the F deck and were fed and exercised by members of the crew. Truly devoted dog owners certainly visited the animals regularly; Miss Ann Elizabeth Isham was known to regularly visit her Great Dane.
A few of the dogs were small, and they were kept in the cabins with their owners, perhaps surreptitiously. The dogs who survived were ones kept with their owners, though the attempt was made to save others.
While a count of the dogs on board the ship cannot be verified, Professor Edgette has found documentation of several of them: The dogs on board included a King Charles spaniel, two Airedales; a chow; a Great Dane; a champion French bulldog, newly purchased in England; a Pekingese, and a “toy dog” owned by Helen Bishop, a 19-year-old bride.
Another passenger, Charles Moore of Washington, D.C. had intended to bring on board 100 English foxhounds that he planned to use to inspire Americans to enjoy English-style fox hunts. He had to make other arrangements for those dogs, which proved life-saving.
Other Animals On Board
In addition to dogs, there were also birds on board. Ella Homes White of New York had with some poultry—a rooster and several hens—that she was importing them from France in order to mix in with her stock. Another woman had 30 cockerels that were coming to the United States with her. There may also have been some canaries, a popular pet of the day.
Ships generally had cats to keep down the mouse and rat population. One cat had had given birth to a new litter of kittens just before the Titanic docked at Southampton. For some reason, the cat and her kittens were left in Southampton. While one would assume there were other cats on board, there is no known mention of them.
The Night of the Sinking
Because the Titanic was considered “unsinkable,” movement toward life boats was slower than it might have been. In addition, a lifeboat drill, scheduled for April 14—the day before the sinking—was cancelled for some reason.
When the ship began listing decidedly to one side and the staff finally began getting out the lifeboats, chaos reigned. Someone went down to the F deck and opened the kennels so while it proved impossible to save these animals, the last sight of the dogs reportedly was of them running along the upper deck.
The dogs who were saved were all ones who were kept with their owners. Margaret Hays’s Pomeranian boarded a lifeboat in Hays’s arms and both were saved; Elizabeth Rothschild refused to board Lifeboat 6 without her dog (also a Pomeranian) and they, too, survived. Henry Harper (scion of Harper & Row Publishers) and his wife Myra were rescued. Myra was carrying their Pekingese in her arms and so Sun Yat Sen was saved.
Other Dogs and People Weren’t So Fortunate
Of the 2224 people on board the Titanic, 1500 of them lost their lives. There were not enough lifeboats, and some lifeboats were not fully filled before they pushed off, adding to the tragedy.
A few other dog-related stories are worth mentioning. Helen Bishop’s toy dog had been kept with her in her cabin, but with great sadness she left him there when they went to board a lifeboat. At a Senate inquiry she said: “there would be little sympathy for a woman carrying a dog in her arms when there were lives of women and children to be saved.”
Miss Ann Elizabeth Isham, 50, who had regularly visited her Great Dane was said to have boarded a lifeboat with her dog, but she was told the dog was going to have to be removed. She left the lifeboat with him. It is said that her body and the dog’s body were found later by a rescue boat.
Insurance claims were placed on several animals: the prize bulldog, the chow, the King Charles spaniel, and one of the Airedales as well as the lost poultry.
A story circulates about a dog helping to rescue passengers. That story is said to have been fabricated by a crew member who sold the story to a New York newspaper and then subsequently disappeared.
All in all, the Titanic was a tragedy for all involved.