As the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is upon us, we’d like to remember the dogs on board. Our April 15 post will tell more about the dogs and their owners. Here’s what a dog’s life was like on the Titanic before it collided with an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage.
World Class Travelers
The dogs on the Titanic were well-traveled.
Kitty, the Airedale owned by John and Madeline Astor, and Frou Frou, a dog of unknown breed owned by Helen and Dickinson Bishop, were accompanying their owners on honeymoon trips. The Astors had been visiting Paris and Egypt, and the Bishops had spent four months visiting Egypt, Italy, France and Algiers.
Mrs. Astor’s sister, Katherine Force, later told the family doctor how Kitty had wandered away from Astor’s side one day at a landing along the Nile. Astor hired scores of natives to look for her and promised a reward to her finder. Eventually, he had to continue his trip. No word came abut Kitty. Returning down river, however, Astor spotted the dog on a passing boat and was reunited. On the Titanic, Kitty slept in his stateroom.
One of the surviving dogs, Sun Yat Sen, owned by Henry Sleeper Harper, was coming back from a tour of Europe and Asia, that had also included time in Egypt.
Not Always Admired
Not all the passengers were delighted by the dogs and their owners. Francis Millet, a muralist and vice chairman of the U.S. National Commission of Fine Art, sent the following to a friend from Queenstown, Ireland, the Titanic’s last stop before crossing the Atlantic:
“Queer lot of people on the ship. Looking over the list, I only find three or four people I know but there are a good many of ‘our people’ I think and a number of obnoxious ostentatious American women, the scourge of any place they infest and worse on shipboard than anywhere. Many of them carry tiny dogs and lead husbands around like pet lambs . . . “
Little is known about the kennels on the Titanic. Charles A. Haas and John P. Eaton, authors of Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy, believe the dog kennels were on F deck near the third class galley (highlighted in green on the diagram). They used plans of the ship from the liability case filed after the disaster.
At least some of the dogs were exercised on the poop deck at the stern of the ship. Some say that proves the kennels couldn’t have been on F deck because it would have been too hard to coax the dogs up stairs and down alleyways every day.
Dogs Surviving the Disaster
Two hours passed between when the Titanic sideswiped the iceberg and when it broke apart and slipped below the surface. The ship was built with watertight compartments in its hull, supposedly protecting it from sinking. The iceberg gashed five compartments. Four would have been survivable; five were not.
To the people on board, especially first class passengers with dogs, it was hard to believe the ship could go down. They had a choice of staying with the well-lit, familiar ship or climbing over a railing into a lifeboat suspended six stories above the freezing, black, oily water. Many were reluctant to take that leap into the unknown.
The three dogs who survived the sinking of the Titanic — Sun Yat Sen, Lady and an unidentified dog — had several things in common. They were small (Sun Yat Sen was a Pekingese and Lady a Pomeranian). Their owners boarded lifeboats early when there was less panic and awareness of the shortage of lifeboats. The dogs could be easily hidden as a lifeboat was loaded. Henry Harper later said that he climbed on board with the dog and no one protested and he believed there was no problem.
Catch our April 14 post for more information about the dogs and their owners.