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Remembering the dogs of the Titanic

Friday April 13th, 2012

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Only 3 of 12 dogs survived the Titanic, which sank in 1912.

This weekend, marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the most tragic – and certainly, most famous – shipwrecks in history.

Shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg and sank into the Atlantic Ocean during the early hours of April 15. Over 1,500 people lost their lives.

What many don’t know is that when the Titanic set sail on April 10, 1912, from Southampton, England, there were at least 12 dogs on board, all accompanying first-class passengers on the voyage to New York. Of those 12, only 3 survived.

The first, Lady, a young Pomeranian, made it onto lifeboat #7 with her owner, Margaret Bechstein Hays. Hays wrapped Lady in a blanket as she boarded the lifeboat, allegedly prompting another passenger to joke “Oh, I suppose we ought to put a life preserve on the little doggie, too.”

A second Pomeranian belonging to textile tycoon Martin Rothschild and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Anne, made it off of the Titanic when Elizabeth Jane Anne snuck the dog onto lifeboat #6. Sadly, Martin did not survive.

The last dog known to disembark the sinking Titanic belonged to publishing heir Henry S. Harper of Harper & Row and his wife, Myna. Sun Yat-Sen, a Pekingese, joined the Harpers and their interpreter on lifeboat #3.

Only a little is known about the dogs that lost their lives in the Titanic tragedy. A Fox Terrier named Dog a and French Bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe are known to have passed.

Of the nine dogs that died, two belonged to William Ernest Carter, a leading coal industrialist from Philadelphia. Carter told his children, Lucy and Billy, that their Airedale Terrier and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel would be all right as the children boarded their lifeboat. Unfortunately, the dogs didn’t make it, and the family would later be compensated in an insurance settlement totaling $300.

One of the dogs that perished was the beloved Great Dane of first class passenger, Ann Elizabeth Isham. Isham begged the lifeboat captain to allow her to bring her dog on board, but her requests were denied because of the dog’s large size. Isham, distraught, refused to climb aboard the lifeboat, choosing instead to stay behind in the dog kennels with her best friend. Some reports suggest that a recovery vessel found Isham’s body days later, her frozen arms still grasping the dog she adored in a final hug.

J. Joseph Edgette, professor at Widener University and curator of the university’s centennial Titanic exhibit, was especially touched by the stories of the dogs onboard the ill-fated ship.

“There is such a special bond between people and their pets," Edgette says. "For many, they are considered to be family members.”

Widener Titanic Exhibit runs through May 12, and Edgette is proud to be a part of an exhibit that includes the stories of Titanic’s canine passengers.

“I don’t think any Titanic exhibit has examined that relationship and recognized those loyal family pets that also lost their lives on the cruise,” Edgette says.

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