In Memoriam: The Animals Aboard Titanic

On this date in 1912, the Titanic, touted as unsinkable, sunk.

As I was rewatching James Cameron’s Titanic for the umpteenth time the other day, I got to wondering about the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio is hanging out with a group of guys on the third class deck. A couple of stewards walk by with dogs and one of the guys he’s with makes a comment about it.

I sort of took it for granted all of the other times I’ve seen it, but this time it hit me: “Were there really dogs on board? If so, what happened to them?”

So I did some research.

What I Found Out about the Animals Who Sailed Titanic

• Artemis, the Greek goddess sometimes called protector/patron of wild animals and birds or Lady of the Beasts, was on board –in the form of a statue displayed on a mantle in the first class lounge.

• Accounts I ran across varied as to the exact number of the following, but they were all close (within a number or two either way of each other): there were either nine or ten dogs aboard, as well as four hens and roosters, 30 cockerels, a yellow canary, a pet pig, and Jenny, the ship’s cat. (Plus a whole slew of rats. Another scene I often wondered about from the movie.)

• If the ship hadn’t sunk, an informal dog show was planned on board for later that day. (Monday April 12th.)

• Dogs whose names and breeds I could find include: Gamon de Pycombe, a French Bulldog; Kitty, an Airedale belonging to John Jacob Astor; Frou Frou, breed unknown, but the owner was Helen Bishop; Rigel, a black Newfoundland who belonged to the Titanic’s 1st Officer; a Pomeranian whose name I couldn’t find but the owner was Margaret Hayes; and Sun Yat Sen, a Pekinese owned by Henry Sleeper Harper.

• There were kennels aboard, but about five dogs actually stayed in the cabins with their owners.

• Someone took pity on the dogs and let them out of their kennels, unable to bear the thought of them drowning while trapped in there.

• Accounts also vary as to how many dogs survived, but these three at least did: the Pomeranian, Sun Yat Sen, and Rigel. (Possibly Gamon de Pycombe also. A passenger by the name of Mr. Norris remembered having been treading water next to the bulldog before being pulled into a lifeboat. I could not find reference to whether the bulldog was pulled in as well or not.)

• A seven-year-old survivor named Eva Hart was so enchanted by Gamon de Pycombe that her dog of choice for the rest of her life was French bulldogs.

A Special Note About Rigel

The story of Rigel brings tears to my eyes. No one pulled him into a lifeboat. He treaded water for three hours until Carpathia finally arrived.

In fact, the rescue ship was about to run over one of the lifeboats, whose occupants were too weak to shout and signal their presence, when Rigel saved them by barking. The Captain heard it and stopped in time.

Rigel survived. Since his master died, Jonas Brigg, one of Carpathia’s sailors, adopted him.

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