Stories about the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 always intrigue me.
Stories about the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 always intrigue me. I have never realized that dogs were aboard and three were survivors. I recently discovered an article based on a narrative that was published in the New York Herald on April 21, 2012. It tells the stories of these dogs.
First-class passengers were allowed to bring their pets on the voyage. The Titanic had excellent kennel facilities. Ten dogs (another account says 12) boarded there on that fateful trip. It is interesting to learn that a dog show was scheduled for Monday, the day after the disaster.
Two small dogs were saved along with their owners who were able to get on an early lifeboat. These boats left only partially full so there apparently was no objection to the presence of the dogs. Miss Margaret Hays of New York brought her Pomeranian, wrapped in a blanket, with her in lifeboat No. 7, while Henry Sleeper Harper boarded boat No. 3 with his Pekinese, "Sun Yat Sen".
I can only imagine the distress of all the pet owners when it became obvious that the ship was sinking. In the chaos of the moment, it would have been almost impossible to get to the kennels to save their pets. Perhaps those who made it had their beloved companions with them in their cabins. A third dog that survived became a famous hero. He was a large Newfoundland dog owned by the ship's first officer. The dog's name was Rigel. His master did not survive and went down with the ship. Rigel somehow ended up in the icy Atlantic water fending for himself.
The Newfoundland swam for over three hours near where the Titanic went down, evidently looking for his master. Ultimately, he was instrumental in guiding one of the lifeboats filled with survivors to the gangway of the RMS Carpathia. She arrived later in response to the Titanic's distress call only to discover that the Titanic was gone. As dawn came up, they located and started rescuing the survivors.
The Carpathia was moving slowly about, looking for boats, rafts and anything, which might be afloat. The fourth boat drifted under their starboard bow and was dangerously close to the steamship. The passengers were too weak to shout a warning loud enough to reach the bridge.
At that close distance, the boat might not have been seen. The sharp barking of Rigel, who was swimming ahead of the craft, announced their position. His barks attracted the attention of Captain Rostron and once he saw the boat, he immediately ordered the engines stopped. The boat was able to maneuver alongside the starboard gangway and the passengers were rescued. They rescued 705 survivors while 1,514 souls perished.
Rigel was also brought aboard and appeared little affected by his ordeal, a tribute to the strength and bravery of his breed. It is reported that he stood by the lifeboat and barked …maybe bragging a bit about his accomplishments. The captain ordered one of the seamen, Jonas Briggs, to take Rigel below. Briggs became his caretaker for the remainder of his life.
Anne Divine is a long time member of LAWS and has volunteered at Animal Control for 18 years. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.