2010-08-11 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The headline read: “Ship’s Cat Found on Titanic Lifeboat- Alive!” Oops, I forgot to say this discovery was on the supermarket news stand merely two months ago. Believe it or not. Please put your money on “not.” Remember, the Titanic sunk in 1912.

Tabloids know how to market. They bury bizarre cover stories so deeply that you can’t find them while wrestling groceries at the register. You have to shell out $3.39 to get the scoop. TheTitanic cat on the front page of the June 21 edition of the Sun was positioned above the latest Nostradamus prophecies. A wet kitty caught my eye. Curiosity reeled me in.

This was my first tabloid in years. I was a better customer when teaching since I collected crazy headlines so my third graders could practice writing news stories. “The Face of Elvis Pouts on Mars” or “Giant Bat Shadows Cincinnati”- all silly sparks for young reporters. I pasted the headlines onto index cards, lest a risqué ad or story graced the back side.

Take the following with a grain of kitty litter. It seems the cat account came from the Weekly World News (perhaps the Sun’s equivalent of the AP) stating last May a fishing vessel off the coast of Cape Cod sailed upon a lifeboat whose side said “RMS Titanic.” The first mate climbed aboard only to be greeted by a soggy orange tabby, later estimated by a vet to be about five years old. After the captain adopted the cat, he theorized this may be Jenny, the Titanic ship cat, frozen a century in an iceberg until recent divine intervention thawed her as a tribute to the famous ship. Was a unicorn or Nostradamus in the iceberg too? Lets fact check this farfetched feline:

According to a BBC site, there is a reference in Georgiou’s The Animals Aboard the Titanic taken from the Atlantic Daily Bulletin (the paper released onboard the Titanic) about a cat named Jenny which reads: “Incidentally, the Titanic had her own pet in the shape of the ship’s cat, which stewardess Violet Jessop said was called Jenny. Ships cats were common in that period because of the presence of rats. While the ship was stored at Southampton, Jenny presented her keepers with a litter of kittens.” By the way, Jessop was a World War I nurse who survived the Titanic sinking. Someone handed her a baby as she was lowered into the lifeboat. The next day on the rescue ship-Carapathia, an unknown woman grabbed the child from her without saying a word.

Little more is documented about the original Jenny cat except a Titanic forum mentioning an interview that said a crewman saw Jenny disembark in Southampton carrying her kittens, and shipmates interpreted her desertion as a harbinger of bad luck. There is no evidence of Jenny’s color. Female ginger cats are relatively rare- about 20% of all orange tabbies, so the tabloid tale would have more punch if the Cape Cod cat’s rusty coat matched the tried and true Titanic one.

As for dogs on the doomed ship, there were from 9 to 12 on the passenger list depending on whom you believe. The very wealthy could afford pet passage. A first class ticket was $4700 (equal to about $50,000 today) and a dog’s fare cost half like a child’s. Only two Pomeranians and a Pekingese survived that awful April night. One Pom got on the lifeboat with her owner Mrs. Rothschild alongside the unsinkable Molly Brown, whereas Mr. Rothschild went down with the ship. A Chow, a pair of Cavaliers, a champion French Bulldog and two Airedales (belonging to the ill-fated John Jacob Astor) were among the canines that perished.

And now back to fiction- Thelast 12 years I have had a “bone to pick” with James Cameron for breed misrepresentation in his blockbuster Titanic. When the film was released in 1998 many folks warned me about a quick cameo of two Afghan Hounds (my breed) on deck with their rich owners. I can’t verify because I am still boycotting the movie. No one sees the dogs lowered into a lifeboat so viewers can assume they drown. I vowed never to see this Afghan tragedy. Sad dog stories a la Old Yeller put me over the edge.

You wonder-“How could she care more about these dogs than the 1,522 human casualties?” I’m not that callous but the drowned passengers are a given, a fact of history; and for the most part, they, unlike the dogs (and kids), got onboard on their own volition. Drowned dogs, especially Afghans, or even the suggestion of their demise would tip the teary equation for me.

Besides Cameron’s crew did not research breeds. They probably chose Afghans to denote class distinction between the snobbish and steerage. Although Afghans (or Salukis) are deemed the oldest purebreds known to man by virtue of a Sinai papyrus document from 3000 BC, there were no Afghans on route to the US in 1912. The first ones arrived via England in 1926. A few years later Zeppo Marx helped popularize the breed here when he imported a pair to his Hollywood home.

Ironically, legend has it that Afghans were Noah’s canine choice on the Ark. When these survivors of the Old Testament become victims of the sunken steamer, it’s more movie bad news than any Afghan aficionado like me could ever handle. Thankfully, history and logic show there is about as much chance of an Affieon the Titanic as there is of the ship’s centenarian cat near Cape Cod.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270): Lamar S. W. Babylon-Since there are no Poms, Pekes or orange tabbies this week, the poster pets can’t cast themselves as descendants of Titanic survivors, but they sure know it is a disaster to be without a home. “Junior” #93434 has had quite an ordeal. This friendly, young Lab/ Shepherd was attacked by a dog. He’s a “patient” patient while his wounds are treated. Poor “Brownie” #93150 a female Pit pup has been at the shelter since February.

Female: “Truffle” tortie cat C-11; “Sweetie” muted calico in cat colony. Pretty Pits-“Star”, “Trixie”, “Heather”, “Bambina”; & “Jinni” carrying her bowl.

Male: “Bradley Beagle #93344; “Alfy” Cocker #93377; yellow Lab #93460; chocolate Lab #93470.

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