Dogs on Titanic

Animals weren't scarce on Titanic.

Aside from Jenny the Ship Cat, whose premonitory departure at Southampton with her litter has already been outlined, there were also a number of fancy-breed French roosters and hens, a canary that is oft-misreported as going down with the ship, and countless rats, as on every ship in the history of humanity.

And of course, there were about a dozen dogs.

Dogs were only permitted if they belonged to first-class passengers, but there were no size restrictions. They included two Pomeranians, a Pekinese named Sun-Yat-Sen owned by the Harper family (as in, Harper Collins Publishers), and a toy dog named Freu Freu that was "too pretty [to stay in the kennels]" and belonged to Helen Bishop.

Larger dogs included Ann Isham's Great Dane or St. Bernard (my research leads me to believe the latter), John Jacob Astor's Airedale, Kitty.

The Carter family brought two dogs on board: their unnamed King Charles Spaniel, and their own Airedale Terrier. The latter belonged to their young son Billy.

And the most valuable canine passenger was an all-black French Bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe, who was a recent purchase of Robert Daniel's that cost the obscene equivalent of almost $14,000 today.

First-Class passenger Robert W. Daniel. courtesy of N.A.R.A.


As fun as Gamin's name is, best-named Titanic dogs go to Harry Anderson's chow-chow, named Chow-Chow, and a Fox Terrier aptly named Dog. Captain Smith's Russian Foxhound, Ben, spent only one night on board, then was taken back home by Smith's daughter before Titanic set sail.

Captain E.J. Smith and his wolfhound Ben. Published in contemporary accounts.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (taken & published prior to 1923)

The dogs were kenneled on F Deck and looked after by the ship's carpenter. They were exercised and taken out for bathroom breaks daily. There were even enough purebreds on board that Titanic's schedule for Monday, April 15, 1912, actually called for a mini-dog show in the morning.

We all know what happened instead.

Of the 12 dogs confirmed to have been on board, 3 survived: the two Pomeranians and Sun-Yat-Sen the Pekinese, who were all smuggled or otherwise permitted on the lifeboats because they were so small

A Pomeranian circa 1915. Of the three dogs saved from Titanic, two were Pomeranians.


Little Freu Freu, clearly sensing dismay, pulled desperately on Helen Bishop's dress as she left for the boat deck. Helen reluctantly left Freu Freu behind in her room, feeling that to insist on saving her dog when people could die was indecent. She said it broke her heart.

The larger dogs clearly could not be secreted to safety, but that was only one reason for their demise. Recall that the dogs were locked in their kennels below deck.

This changed, however, when a still-unknown Samaritan made their way down to F Deck despite the rising water and freed the dogs, undoubtedly trying to give them a fair shot at survival, or at least a less inhumane end.

Rumors still circulate that their savior was John Jacob Astor himself; this is unverifiable, though one can guess at its origins.

Jack Astor and his wife were both extremely protective of Kitty, especially since she had been lost as they traveled the Nile on their honeymoon in Egypt. Luckily, Kitty was discovered on another American family's passing boat and returned to the Astors, who offered a sizeable reward.

Kitty apparently was most often found in sleeping in the Astors' suites instead of in the Titanic's kennels, and Astor walked her on deck every day. When Astor lifted his pregnant wife through a window and into a lifeboat, it's reported that she begged him to go find Kitty.

Some witnesses say it's the last they saw of John Jacob Astor.

The Astors with their Airedale Terrier, Kitty. Jack Astor and Kitty would both die in the sinking.


Astor is also associated with the Carter family's unnamed Airedale, who belonged to their 11-year-old son, Billy.

Billy absolutely adored his dog. He had him on a leash while waiting for a lifeboat, but the dog was refused a spot on the lifeboat. Billy, in tears, was reassured by Astor that his dog would be well taken care of, no matter what.

Billy declined to speak much of the sinking even as an adult, being so traumatized with guilt over leaving his dog behind. The most he did say was that he last saw him sitting, still leashed, beside the preternaturally calm John Jacob Astor.

The Carters filed a $100 claim for their Spaniel, $200 for their Airedale, and $5,000 for their Renault car in Titanic's cargo hold... Yes, that's the Sexy Time Handprint Car in the 1997 movie.

As the ship sank, all the dogs left on board were seen running in a frantic herd up and down the sloping deck. Mrs. Astor said this is when she last saw Kitty, pacing back and forth. Frou Frou died locked in Bishop's room; no one knows how long Chow-Chow and Dog survived.

But this was not the last sighting of Titanic's dogs.

First-Class passenger and world-famous tennis player Richard Norris Williams was struggling to keep his head above the freezing water in the moments after Titanic submerged.

Breaking the surface, he came face to face with the last thing he would have expected in the middle of the nighttime ocean: Gamin de Pycombe the Extraordinarily Expensive French Bulldog, paddling for his own life in the swarm.

French Bulldog (not Gamin) circa 1915.


Gamin, was said to having been heard crying when the chaos began by Edith Russell, whose cabin neighbored Daniels'.

Edith went inside and pet the dog and put him to bed. He was fed a treat and "was very obedient and sat there and looked at me sweetly as I closed the door. I did not know then that we were in any great danger or else I would have taken him with me."

Gamin was presumably let loose from the room shortly thereafter, given Williams' encounter.

The last sighting of any of Titanic's doomed dogs was of that reportedly belonging to First-Class passenger Ann Isham.

Ms. Isham's dog is most commonly reported to have been a Great Dane, but I'm still looking for the primary source of this information; I believe that it comes from a widely circulated photo of three dogs on a ship deck (including a Dane) that is meant to represent the Titanic dogs. But don't be fooled; this photo does not portray any of Titanic's dogs. In fact, it was not taken on Titanic at all.

Photo erroneously cited as being of dogs on board Titanic.


What is rumored is that Ann Isham, a First-Class woman, supposedly refused to take her seat in a lifeboat if she could not take her dearest dog with her.

Days later, the German ship SS Bremen sailed past Titanic's wreck site. Bremen passenger Johanna Stunke wrote that as the ship passed, everyone observed in horrified silence.

Looking down over the rail we distinctly saw a number of bodies so clearly that we could make out what they were wearing, and whether they were men or women.

We saw one woman in her nightdress, with a baby clasped closely to her breast. Several of the women passengers screamed, and left the rail in a fainting condition.

There was another woman, fully dressed, with her arms tight around the body of a shaggy dog that looked like a St. Bernard. The bodies of three men in a group, all clinging to one steamer chair floated close by, and just beyond them were a dozen bodies of men, all in life-preservers, clinging together, as though in the last desperate struggle for life.

© Excerpt from "Lost Voices of the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History" by Nick Barratt, St. Martin's Press. 2010.

It makes sense if the dead woman was, in fact, Ann Isham. There is, however, is no way to verify it, or to find out to whom the shaggy dog belonged. Ann Isham, for note, was one of only four First-Class women to die in the sinking.

The final Titanic dog never existed to begin with, even though many people still think he did. This made-up hero dog was a black Newfoundland named Rigel belonging to First Officer William Murdoch.

Newfoundland, circa 1915.


Rigel supposedly rescued and aided victims throughout the night, and even barked to prevent the Carpathia from running exhausted survivors over.

This story, while heartwarming and novel--a Newfie in the ice-cold Atlantic rescuing people as Newfies are bred to do, how convenient--was first published as told by a Carpathia crewman named Jonas Briggs. But a) there is no record of a Newfie on Titanic, b) Murdoch's widow insisted he never owned a dog, and c) there is no record of a Jonas Briggs on Carpathia.

Moreover, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who was in the first lifeboat to be picked up Carpathia, made no mention of Rigel, which one would think he would had something so extraordinary occurred.

So, as awesome as Rigel was, he was only that awesome because he was imagined that way. But this has not stopped the story from circulating, even today.

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