The Tragic and Untold Story of the Dogs Aboard the Titanic

We rarely think of the animal casualties in any disaster, but aboard the Titanic, some cute dogs also saw a tragic end.

Isabel Cara

Los perros a bordo del Titanic

A total of 2,224 passengers traveled aboard the Titanic, of which only 710 survived, including men, women, and children who set sail with illusion, unaware of what was to come. Much has been said about the people who survived one of the most tragic accidents in history; however, little is known about the dogs that traveled aboard the liner.

Thanks to documents issued by the White Star company (the ship’s operator) and testimonies from survivors, it is known that 12 dogs traveled on board the Titanic, all of them belonging to first-class passengers since only they had the right to transport their pets. The owners took out insurance policies for their dogs, which, in the end, were not paid.

The dogs were part of their owners’ glamour, and they were provided with heated kennels and amenities. The animals were also provided with a walking service. Tragically, only three of the 12 dogs survived the shipwreck by boarding one of the first rescue boats.

Titanic dogs tragedy history2 - the tragic and untold story of the dogs aboard the titanic

Sun Yat Set, a Pekingese traveling with Henry Harper and his wife Myra, who belonged to the family of the New York publishing firm Harper & Row, was rescued in one of the first boats. Lady, a Pomeranian belonging to Margaret Hays, was lucky, as was her owner since they both boarded the seventh lifeboat.

The rest of the people accompanying Hays claimed that the dog had been hidden in her owner’s clothes, passing her off as a baby, and so the two made it to their destination: New York. Another Pomeranian also survived, its name is unknown, but it was owned by Elizabeth Barret Rothschild, who was traveling with her husband Martin Rothschild.

Among the unfortunate dogs that met their death on the ship are: a Chow-Chow, a beauty champion. Jacob Astor had an airedale terrier named Kitty, this man was the one who freed the dogs from the kennels when the Titanic was sinking, although Astor did not manage to survive; he died next to his dog. His pregnant wife was saved in boat number four.

Titanic dogs tragedy history1 - the tragic and untold story of the dogs aboard the titanic

William Carter took with him an old airedale terrier, a King Charles Spaniel, and a small breed Mongrel; however, none of his dogs survived, so Carter sued the company for his pets and also for the loss of a Renault, the original car featured in James Cameron’s film during the love scene between Jack and Rose. Carter’s lawsuit against the company was one of the most talked about at the time.

Anne Isham, another passenger, refused to board the lifeboat without the Great Dane accompanying her. Four days after the sinking of the Titanic, the ship “Bremen,” which was passing by the same place as the shipwreck, reported having observed the body of a well-dressed lady hugging a dog.

Gamin de Pycombe, a French Bulldog, did not survive the sinking, but his owner did, so he demanded that the company that owned the ship return the money he had paid for the dog, an exaggerated amount in those days.

Titanic dogs tragedy history3 - the tragic and untold story of the dogs aboard the titanic

The captain of “the tragedy of the Century” was said to be a dog lover. In fact, a dog parade was planned for April 15, the same day the Titanic sank. Testimonies indicated that there were other dogs on board: a Borzoi, a Greyhound, and a Fox Terrier, but no one ever confirmed it.

Days after the shipwreck, the New York Herald newspaper published an article in which a sailor from the ship “Carpathia,” the first to reach the area of the accident, claimed that a Newfoundland named Rigel had helped rescue some shipwrecked sailors, the dog belonging to a ship’s officer. The story goes that had it not been for the animal, the survivors in the lifeboat would not have made it, as they were lost in the darkness, and the dog barked until the ship’s captain heard it. The feat has never been officially documented by any historian.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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