It’s been more than a century since the sinking of the RMS Titanic, a tragedy that has remained in our collective memory thanks in large part to the 1997 film that catapulted Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to international stardom.
I remember being a young girl and finding myself obsessed with everything Titanic, especially the scene where Jack first sees Rose. Not because I was drawn in by the magic of the moment, but because there were three dogs being walked behind Jack.
The dogs were never shown again, which made 10-year-old me wonder where they went for the rest of the movie. Turns out there were animals on the actual Titanic, among them 12 dogs who enjoyed the luxury of traveling in some pretty glamorous digs. For the pups enjoying a ride on the ship’s maiden voyage, there were daily walks and regular potty breaks out on the deck. A dog show was planned for the morning of April 15th, but the ship sank the night before.
Although there was a kennel located on F Deck, some passengers kept their pups in their cabins. Francis Davis Millet, an artist traveling with a friend, wrote his observations of fellow 1st class passengers in a letter:
“Many of them carry tiny dogs, and lead husbands around like pet lambs.”
There were bigger dogs onboard as well, among them a Great Dane owned by a Miss Ann Elizabeth Isham (who reportedly visited her beloved pup every day of the journey and perished because she refused to leave her dog behind) and a few Airedale Terriers, one of which belonged to millionaire Mr. John Jacob Astor.
Another dog lover on the ship was Captain Edward John Smith himself, who posed for a photograph with his Irish Wolfhound before the ship left port. The pup remained safely on land with Captain Smith’s daughter.
Other breeds reportedly onboard were a French Bulldog, a Pekingese, a Chow Chow, a King Charles Spaniel, and a Pomeranian. Of the 12 dogs traveling on the ship, only three survived the sinking by hitching a ride with their owners on lifeboats.
One of these pups was Mr. Henry Sleeper Harper’s Pekingese named Sun Yat-Sen (named after China’s president at the time), who had contract ticket number 869. When asked about bringing his dog into lifeboat 3, Harper said, “There seemed to be lots of room and nobody made any objection.”
The two other surviving pups were a Pomeranian who went on to live seven more years, and another pup whose owner refused to board a lifeboat unless her dog came too. All three surviving dogs were small, which is probably why it was easy to bring them along as people evacuated the ship. It’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like to have to leave the dogs behind, but one thing is obvious: those pups were all loved by their humans.