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What about the dogs on the Titanic?

  • Twelve dogs were aboard the Titanic; three of them survived
  • A Pennsylvania gallery is bringing their stories to light
  • What made some more likely to pull through than others?
What about the dogs on the Titanic?

One hundred years ago this weekend, 1,514 people perished when the Titanic slipped into the north Atlantic ocean on the morning of April 15. While enthusiasts have devised many ways to commemorate this event (historical Twitter accounts, 3D movie releases, you name it), not much has been said about the dogs that accompanied their masters on the fateful voyage. 

An exhibit at the Widener University Art Gallery in Pennsylvania is bringing the amazing stories of the Titanic dogs into focus with pictures of them and accounts of their fates. Only three of the 12 confirmed dogs aboard survived the tragedy, but the fact that any animals survived the frigid temperatures and general mayhem that night is truly remarkable. 

What was the secret to these dogs' survival? Size, apparently. Dr. J. Joseph Edgette PhD, the curator of the exhibit, and a 20-year historian of the Titanic, told Yahoo! News that all three of the dogs saved were very small, which means they could be easily foisted into life rafts without being noticed. According to Edgette, two of these dogs were Pomeranians, one of which, named Lady, was bundled in a blanket by her owner. Other passengers and crew members didn't notice.

"Because they assumed it was a baby," says Edgette, "it survived."

The third dog was a Pekingese named Sun Yat-sen, and to say he was a product of "good breeding" is an understatement -- he belonged to the Harper family, of the New York publishing firm Harper and Row. Curiously, he also shared his name with the founder and first president of the Republic of China.

Even getting to have a dog on board took special privilege. Edgette says only first class passengers were allowed to bring their pets on board. "The crew was very respectful of these first-class passengers and usually gave them what they wanted to keep them happy," he said. Some of these owners even took out insurance policies on their beloved pets. Sadly, most of these claims were not paid out, as the nine dogs left behind to take their chances in the ship's kennel obviously perished. 

If it's bumming you out to think about all of the treasured pets that were lost in the disaster, let us pile on: "One particularly sad story involves a Great Dane owned by 50-year-old Ann Elizabeth Isham," Edgette recounts. Upon hearing her dog was too large to be saved, Isham fled a lifeboat to go be by it's side. When rescue crews combed the site days later, eyewitnesses said they saw the body of a woman clinging to a large dog. "The body recovered is assumed to be Miss Isham," Edgette says. 

However sad, Edgette says the exhibit focuses on an oft-forgotten aspect of the tragedy. "I wanted to include things that people don't normally run across," he says. "Everybody knows about the iceberg, how the ship went down ... but it doesn't go beyond that, yet there are hundreds of other aspects that we need to give attention to."

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