The RMS Titanic sank on 15th April, 1912. This disaster led to the loss of over 1500 human lives, but also several animal lives. There were various animals aboard the Titanic before the ship sank, including chickens, cats (including the official ship’s cat, Jenny), and several dogs.
Dogs on board
According to records, there were at least 12 dogs on board the Titanic, travelling with several first class passengers. There may have been other dogs, but any records of them have been lost. Details of these dogs and their owners were recorded in the ship’s books, and were as follows:
- Frou-Frou, a Toy dog that belonged to Helen Bishop.
- Sun Yat Sen, a Pekingese that belonged to Henry and Myra Sleeper Harper (a married couple). Henry S. Harper was the heir to heir to Harper & Row, a publishing company based in New York.
- Kitty, an Airedale Terrier that belonged to the millionaire John Jacob Astor.
- Gamin de Pycombe, Robert Williams Daniel’s champion French Bulldog
- Chow-Chow, a Chow-chow, who belonged to Harry Anderson.
There were also several dogs whose names were not recorded:
- An Airedale Terrier and A King Charles Spaniel, owned by William Carter.
- A large dog, perhaps a Great Dane, belonging to Ann Elizabeth Isham.
- A Pomeranian that belonged to Margaret Bechstein Hays, and was kept (perhaps secretly) in her cabin.
- A dog of unknown breed that belonged to Elizabeth Rothschild, and was kept in her cabin.
Most of the dogs were kept in the ship’s kennels (unless secretly kept in the passengers’ cabins), except for Frou-Frou, who was considered too dainty and pretty to stay with the larger dogs. Frou-Frou instead stayed in owner Helen Bishop’s cabin. The kennels were located on the F deck of the ship. The ship’s carpenter was responsible for their day to day care, such as exercise and toilet breaks. The dogs were exercised on the poop deck, usually by a bell boy or a steward. Some passengers had planned to hold a small dog show, but this was scuppered by the sinking of the ship.
As the ship began to sink and passengers were evacuated, someone thought to open the kennels. The dogs raced about the deck, seemingly in a panic. As the ship sank and the deck slanted more and more, the dogs slid as they ran around franticly.
Only three of the recorded 12 dogs survived. The surviving dogs were all small enough to be held in their owners’ arms, and could easily fit in a lifeboat without taking up valuable room. The Harpers were able to take their Pekingese into Lifeboat 3, claiming that no one objected to the dog, and that there seemed to be plenty of room (the Titanic’s lifeboats were not filled to capacity when launched; although they could hold up to 65 people, some boats were launched with as few as 28 in them). Margaret Hays was able to take her Pomeranian with her in Lifeboat 7. Elizabeth Rothschild refused point blank to enter Lifeboat 6 unless she could bring her dog with her. Helen Bishop sadly had to leave her beloved Frou-Frou behind. The dog was terrified and would not let her leave the cabin, gripping her dress in his teeth until the seam tore, and so she was forced to abandon Frou-Frou.
None of the other animals on board survived. The French Bulldog, Gamin de Pycombe, was seen swimming for his life after the ship went down, but likely died of cold or drowning. The body of a woman gripping a large furry dog in her arms (also dead) was found in the water some days later. There is a story of First Officer William’s Murdoch’s Newfoundland, Rigel, withstanding the freezing water long enough to catch the attention of some rescuers by barking. Sadly there is little evidence for this story, as no passengers mentioned Rigel.