Dogs That Survived the Sinking of the Titanic

At least twelve dogs were on board the Titanic — some of them made it home

Image by Arnold van den Heever from Pixabay

TTitanic, It’s a bold word for a grand ship. But the ‘unsinkable’ ship now rests on the ocean floor. Titanic’s maiden journey ended unforgettably. With 2,435 passengers and a crew of around 900 people, some loss of life as the ship slowly sunk could be expected. But not on the scale in which it occurred. In part, the low number of survivors was due to a shortage of lifeboats. The problem was also compounded by a failure to fill the lifeboats as they pushed off from the ship.

Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Carpathia rescued 705 people from the Titanic’s lifeboats. In those lifeboats, along with the human survivors, were three little dogs.

Titanic historian, Dr. J. Joseph Edgette from Widener University, has studied the disaster for decades. Edgette curated an exhibition that included man’s best friend for the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

There is such a special bond between people and their pets. For many, they are considered to be family members. I don’t think any Titanic exhibit has examined that relationship and recognized those loyal family pets that also lost their lives on the cruise.” — Dr. J. Joeseph Edgette.

The dogs of the Titanic

Edgette’s research confirmed at least twelve dogs were on board the Titanic when it sunk. These canines all belonged to first-class passengers. The actual number of dogs on board the Titanic is unknown. Ship records, lost with the ship, would have identified all animals, including dogs that traveled as cargo.

The records that do exist identify the canine passengers by breed and owner’s name. From various documents, including insurance paperwork, transcripts of the senate inquiry, and newspaper reports, enabled the following dogs to be identified by name:

  • Frou-Frou, a toy poodle;
  • Kitty, an Airedale;
  • Gamin de Pycombe, a French Bulldog;
  • Sun Yat-Sen, a tiny Pekingese;
  • Lady, a young Pomeranian;
  • Chow-Chow, who was actually a Chow-Chow;
  • A Fox Terrier called Dog;

The canine passengers were technically supposed to stay in the F Deck’s kennels. The dogs sailing on F Deck had their daily needs and exercise attended to by the Titanic’s crew.

However, some canines sailed in luxury, living alongside their humans in the first-class cabins.

The dog that wasn’t

In 1912, the New York Herald reported a touching story centered around a heroic dog, Rigel. According to the newspaper source, Rigel belonged to First Officer William Murdoch. Rigel was instrumental in rescuing the Titanic passengers. He hunted through the decks sniffing out trapped passengers. Then, once in the water, Rigel commenced barking furiously. It was this sound that drew the attention of the RMS Carpathia’s crew.

The story has been repeated and reprinted since then. And it’s no wonder — it’s a remarkable feat.

Except there’s a slight problem with the story. No one has ever been able to prove the Rigel was a real dog — let alone one of the Titanic dogs.

Going down with the ship

Helen Bishop made the hard choice to leave her toy poodle Frou-Frou behind in her first class cabin. She told the Senate Inquiry, “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.”

When Ann Elizabeth Isham boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, her Great Dane traveled with her. Isham refused to board a lifeboat without her dog. Subsequently, she chose to stay on the sinking ship. Isham is one of only four females passengers in first-class that did not survive the disaster.

Three dogs, including a Great Dane, sitting on the deck of the Titanic.
Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

“Edgette said she gave up her seat to go back on board. When her body was found in the sea, he said, weeks later, her beloved pet was clutched in her frozen arms.” — Daily Times

In the chaos of the sinking ship, someone, no one knows who, let the dogs out of the kennels. The logic, presumably, being to give the dogs their best chance of survival.

Once released, the dogs made their way to the top deck, where they frantically ran about as the ship sunk.

To the lifeboats!

“The dogs that survived were so small that it’s doubtful anyone even realized they were being carried to the lifeboats.” — Dr. J. Joeseph Edgette.

Margaret Hayes kept her brand new puppy, Lady, in her first-class cabin. When it was time to evacuate, Hayes wrapped Lady up tightly in a blanket and climbed aboard a lifeboat. With Lady swaddled like a baby, those manning Lifeboat Seven assumed Lady was a newborn.

On Lifeboat Six, Elizabeth Rothschild hid her little dog until morning. When RMS Carpathia arrived to rescue the passengers, they initially denied the dog boarding privileges. But Rothschild refused to take no for an answer. She insisted she would not board RMS Carpathia without her little Pomeranian. Her husband did not survive the disaster.

The Harper family boarded Lifeboat Three. Myra Harper held their Pekingese, Sun Yat-Sen, in her arms. When questioned, Mr. Harper reportedly said, “There seemed to be lots of room, and nobody made any objection.”

The surviving dogs were so small; it’s doubtful that anyone can convincingly claim their rescue cost a human life.

Amid a disaster, the choice to leave behind an animal is one that no pet owner ever wants to make.

Knowing your own death would be imminent as Ann Elizabeth Isham did, and choosing to stay with a beloved dog is equally unfathomable — but one that hundreds of other pet owners would make in a heartbeat.




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Sandi Parsons

Sandi Parsons

Sandi Parsons lives & breathes stories as a reader, writer, and storyteller📚 Kidlit specialist, dipping her toes in the big kid’s pool.