Dogs Lost at Sea: Facts or Titanic TalesPublished April 12, 2012
Titanic Historical Society Inc / Ed & Karen Kamuda Collection
Given the number of books and movies that have come out in the century since, one would think very little mystery remains about the ship and its’ passengers.
There is, however, still mystery surrounding its four legged passengers.
The first part of the mystery: Exactly how many dogs were actually aboard the Titanic? J. Joseph Edgette, a Ph.D. and curator of a Titanic exhibit at Widener University in Philadelphia, Pa. believes there were at least a dozen, as he related in another story published this week.
Janice Servais, researcher for the Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson, Mo., which opened a tribute of its own to the dogs of the Titanic last year, says the museum has only ever been able to verify 10 dogs, all kenneled by first class passengers, with only three surviving.
Presumably, the surviving dogs were so small, no one took notice when they were carried onto lifeboats. Two were Pomeranians, one named Lady and the other dog’s name was unknown. Also surviving was a Pekinese named Sun-Yat Sen, owned by the Harpers of the book publisher Harper & Row.
Another mystery surrounding Titanic and its dogs is an even sadder tale of a woman who would not leave her beloved companion while she drifted to safety in a lifeboat, but is it true?
As the story is told, Ann Elizabeth Isham, a first class passenger, was traveling with her Great Dane. When the crew refused to allow Isham to take the large dog aboard a life boat due to its size, she reportedly refused to save herself and leave her dog aboard the sinking ship.
Edgette said the crew on the Mackay-Bennet, which was sent to recover bodies from the disaster later recorded finding a woman’s body floating in the ocean. She was clinging to the body of a dog and it was presumed it was Isham and her beloved dog.
Servais says the museum has never been able to verify the story and does not list Isham as having a dog aboard Titanic. “We’ve never even been able to confirm there was a Great Dane aboard Titanic,” says Servais.
Many other historians also dispute that it was Isham with the dog, although history does record passengers of the German liner Breman telling reporters once they arrived in New York several days after the Titanic sank they had seen a “fully clothed body of a woman clinging tightly to that of a shaggy dog.”
Not to be left out, there is also a cat tale swirling around the disaster. A cat, kept on board to keep the rat population at a minimum, was said to have been on board during sea trials. As the story goes, the feline disembarked when the ship docked in Southampton, making multiple trips up and down the gangplank to retrieve her litter of kittens.
“She and the kittens quickly disappeared and it was later said that had some sort of premonition that the voyage wasn't going to be a good one,” Edgette told a reporter.
Servais also says the museum in Branson has not ever verified that story. “There was a children’s book, but we’ve never verified the story there was an actual cat on board,” says Servais.
Servais is quick to point out that the stories may be true, but because she works museum, it will not use stories its researchers haven’t personally verified.
“If someone has documentation, we always want to learn more,” says Servais.
What is known is that among the dogs that perished was John Jacob Astor’s Airedale, Kitty; a and French Bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe. Edgette says Helen Bishop’s dog was a toy poodle named Frou Frou and he also lists a Fox Terrier known as Dog.
Two dogs lost, an Airedale and a King Charles Spaniel (names unknown), had insurance claims filed after their deaths by the William Carter family, which also owned the 1912 Renault, which was reproduced for the steamy love scene in the 1997 movie “Titanic,” recently re-released in 3D.
It’s also known that Capt. Edward Smith’s dog, Ben, though photographed on Titanic, was taken home by his family before the ship left for the open sea.
Due to the enormity of the disaster and loss of more than 1,500 human souls, it is somewhat understandable why the dogs aboard the fated Titanic were not documented and remembered at the time, but at the 100 year anniversary of their deaths, their time has come.
Thanks to the passage of time, historians now only have ship records, news reports and books to rely upon when gathering information now about the dogs and cats that may have been aboard Titanic.
The important thing is that 100 years later, they’re finally being remembered and given due respect in exhibits associated with the great disaster.