This year marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It only took 2 ½ hours for the entire vessel to sink after it hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912. There were not enough lifeboats for everyone onboard and the ones that were launched were not filled to capacity. Some lifeboats carried as few as 12 people, despite having a capacity of 65.
It is known that there were animals aboard Titanic, including chickens, dogs, cats, birds and rats. Only the wealthy had dogs on board, and only the smallest dogs had a chance of surviving. Dogs aboard the Titanicwere walked around the promenade deck everyday at the same time. People enjoyed seeing them so much that they planned an informal dog show, set to take place on April 15 . Of course, this never happened because the ship sank the night before.
There were between nine and twelve dogs kept in kennels on the ship. Although there were orders for women and children to board the lifeboats first, at least 2 dogs survived the sinking: a Pomeranian and a Pekingese. One dog was wrapped in a blanket by Margaret Bechstein Hays, who had purchased the lucky pup in Paris. John Jacob Astor’s beloved Airedale, Kitty, perished in the disaster.
Although many human lives were lost because of the inadequate number of lifeboats, a couple of people snuck their small dogs on the lifeboats. One woman’s dog was in the cabin when she realized there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers; she decided to leave her little dog behind. With tears in her eyes she recounted the event to newspapers in the following weeks. As she left her room she said her dog nipped and pulled at her skirt to keep her from leaving.
One particularly sad case of the pets aboard the Titanic was that of 50 year-old Ann Elizabeth Isham, who visited her Great Dane in the ship’s kennel every day. She asked that he be evacuated with her, but was refused because of his size. Isham made it into a life boat but ended up leaving it to find her beloved pet. Days later her body was found clutching the large dog in the icy waters.
Perhaps the most touching story of all is the legend of Rigel. The story has not been proved, but it found wide circulation after a newspaper told the story to thousands of readers. Rigel was a black Newfoundland who belonged to a crewmember. When it was clear that the ship would sink, the Titanic crew let all the dogs out of their kennels. Most perished in the freezing water, but Rigel was bred for these conditions, and he swam for two hours next to a lifeboat.
When the rescue ship Carpathia finally arrived, the fog was so thick that the Captain could not see the lifeboats. Passengers on the lifeboats were too exhausted by the ordeal to call out for help. But Rigel was able to bark loud enough to alert the crew of the Carpathia; passengers and Rigel were saved.