Musings on The Golden Age of Pet Travel

Dogs of the Titanic

I have been doing a lot of musing lately; a sort of mental… or almost spiritual trip to the past, to days long gone and blown away by the sands of time.  Not in any nostalgic way since I am not that old, but based on haunting black and white (or sepia – a favourite) photographs that I stubble across from time to time in my research for this blog.  It’s more curiosity – or even a slight sense of poetry that lingers when I go down this path.

I pride myself in always finding facts and documentation to support what I have to say – but sometimes dear reader … sometimes I’m just thinking out loud.  The thought that has been following me in my morning walks, evenings of lap time and even during my dozes in the living-room sunbeam (I do so love those) is a question…without being a question:

“Pets were once allowed on Ocean Liners and on the Great Orient Express.
Why did this change – and when?”

Ocean Liners

If you read the story of the Titanic you will note that when it left port (unknowingly to its doom) there were nine dogs, a pet pig and a canary on board.  Aside from the pet pig … this is a rather startling discovery since today’s cruise ships have a no pet (of any kind) policy.  Other than the Queen Marry II that is.

My Theory:

The clue was so small I almost missed it and in fact – I may be wrong but thought I would share what I glimpsed.

There is a difference between an Ocean Liner and a Cruise Ship. Ocean Liners were designed as methods of transportation, i.e., getting people, mail and goods from point A to point B.  The innovation of a Cruise – where the travel itself is the entertainment, was the beginning of the end of an era.  Focus shifted away from sumptuous accommodations for the few very rich who could afford to travel and focused on the middle class.  You see, with wealth came the ability to buy whatever you wanted.  The wealthy few dictated what could – or could not be done.  As such, when you look at old photos of those grand luxurious Ocean Liners, you will find kennels and dog menus.  You will find porters who walked the dogs and glamorous people with their pets in their arms.

The SS Normandie 1932-1942

One such example was the French SS Normandie, the largest and fastest ship in the world in its time. Her novel design features and lavish interiors have led many to consider her the greatest of all ocean liners. Even dogs got a royal treatment!

The dogs lived comfortably aboard ship behind stainless-steel bars that surrounded their oval room, at the center of which was a drinking fountain. The small dogs had a separate “out and about time” from the medium and larger dogs. The kennels were steam-heated and ventilated, fresh beds of straw were provided daily, and the dogs were allowed daily exercise on a top deck. There were even life preservers for the pups in large, medium and small sizes, and a special menu printed in French offered choice bones, soups, biscuits and vegetables. In case the canine tourist was indisposed, a veterinarian aboard helped him or her win back their sea legs.

Most dogs that traveled on the SS Normandy probably outlasted the vessel. Built in 1932, the ship caught fire while being converted to a troopship in 1942. She capsized, and sank in New York . Restoration was deemed too costly, and she was scrapped after the war. Still to us, she and the photo we found is the cause for all this musing.

Today, the extremely rich are the minority on a Cruise Ship; after all they have their own yachts now. We believe this was the real shift.

With the Cruise Ship not only catering to the “common man” but also taking larger than ever (and still growing) numbers of passengers, things probably started to get tricky.  Food had to be prepared ahead of time – larger fridges and freezers probably took over and required a lot of space. The old Ocean Liners carried livestock (yes, even the livestock that was butchered on board for meals) and other animals for sale and trade – or horses for racing – so a few extra pets were hardly going to make a difference.

Cruise ships however carry only human passengers… so perhaps a dog’s place was surrendered for storage space?

I do not know where these Ocean Liner musings will take me – but slowly the pictures and stories I read are piecing a picture for me.  I will update if I find anything else.

The Orient Express 

The Orient Express still runs. A glorious remnant of a bygone day, when room attendants, fine dining, leather trunks with destination stickers and champagne were a part of the travel experience.

An interesting fact is that Orient Express once allowed pets on board. Today, no such luck. Why?

My Theory:

Rudy Valentino traveling with his wife and ... cat!

After two World Wars the pet population in Europe was at an all time low. Simple reason was that dogs and cats had either been killed in the debris of conflict or, hard as it is for us to now comprehend, eaten. The world of pampered pets had gone along with the old money and the old titles.  Most of what had once been nobility had been whipped out. The social shift from “old” wealthy families to nouveau riche merchants that had started in the Victorian era and the industrial revolution was complete. As such, the upper class was now made up of a very different kind of person. Where in the past ladies had grown up with small lap dogs as companions and “real” gentleman had hunting dogs at their feet, now a new class of rich was born.

For this new class of wealthy, the idea of a dog’s place was on the land, working. And so, we canines lost that prestigious place among the upper crust.  With our disappearance in social circles and the increased ability for the middle class to travel as ships, trains and eventually cars became something that was targeted to “everyone” and not just the wealthy, there was no longer a perceived need to cater to the pampered pets of the minority – the überwealthy.

In addition, at the end of WWII, we saw the beginning of required paper work for the moving of livestock and, thus, all animals across the new postwar borders. Something that was relatively new was the knowledge of transmittable diseases that should be managed internally by each nation.  Today, we still hear about names, such as “mad cow disease” and the “avian flu.”

A strong will to eradicate rabies was born post WWII and the divide between those nations that had successfully eradicated the disease and those that had not was created.  That divide is something we canine travelers still deal with since most of the countries we have visited have that as their single requirement: Proof of rabies vaccination.


Duke and Duchess of Windsor on the Night Train with their Pug!

The “Night Ferry” was the first and, until the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the only through- train from London to Paris. The train was made up of sleeping cars provided by the CIWL (Companie Internationale des Wagon-lits or International Sleeping Car Company) of “Orient Express” fame.

The train used the newly constructed Train Ferry Dock at Dover and one of the three specially constructed train ferries, built by the Southern Railway to ferry the sleeping cars across the Channel to Dunkirk while their occupants (hopefully) slept.  Dogs were permitted on board,  In fact, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who hated to fly often took this train with their pug.

Yet, all things have a cycle, and I believe that the pampered pooch is back or at least on its way back. With the successful rabies vaccine, the paper work to move dogs has become easier.  Even a major stronghold like the UK dropped their mandatory 6-month quarantine in January of 2012.  Hotels and airlines have noticed that people wish to travel with their pampered canines; in fact, more so than ever before, because such travels aren’t just for the very rich!  Today it is for you, and I … it is for Mr. and Mrs. Everyone who wants the choice to bring Fido along.

So perhaps it is time to see again a pet friendly deck on a Cruise Ship. Perhaps it is time the Orient Express brought back its pet friendly policy. Maybe we can start with the toy breeds to break the ice and move towards an overall pet friendly approach to public transport.

Perhaps the time has come again for a travelling pet golden age.



23 Comments on “Musings on The Golden Age of Pet Travel

  1. Sonja, a great post! I think those romantic days of ocean travel were very special and it shows folks back then wanted to have their dogs with them as they traveled the world. I myself would not be caught dead on a boat of any size on the sea but I know so many others do and enjoy it so much. You always give us such great information. Well written and researched! Kudos!

    • Thanks Marlene!! It is also the trains … I think with all the speed, and security we have lost track of something … the “art” of travel.

  2. Oh what a beautiful article! Monte, you’re a real magician! It made me think! I also love old photos and there are many animals that travel with people! This is remarkable! I wonder why there are now so limited? Can this be strong words but I will tell them – this is discrimination! Why can not I take my little Pepi with me? It has all vaccines, lead him to the doctor is always a leash and not allowed to hurt anyone ….
    I hope someday this will change because sincerely believe that all have equal rights – and people and animals! And nobody is more important or higher than the other!

    • I believe we need to be the change we want to see … put pressure. I know we are. When someone says no – we ask: Why?

  3. Sonja… I woke up this morning to a strong cup of espresso and your posting. I am fascinated! Please read out in your mind… fascinated with enthusiasm! What a fantastic post! My biggest dream is to see travelling with our small dogs become facilited and fit to the new reality: pets are our kids.

    Gream posting dear!

    • Thank you Kiki … Your enthusiasm is so heart warming. We feel that if it existed in the past – and with a new pressure coming from people today – things are changing. WE are making it change. Everyone that has a fighters spirit has to take it on and not take no for an answer. Challenge, question and show them another perspective. There will always be those that will not like animals … but we can NOT let them win.

      Glad you enjoyed it Kiki … and your espresso!

      -Sonja and Co.

  4. Loved the post today! Indeed, you used to see the rich and famous travel with their favourite pooches (or kitties) all the time. Where have those days gone? I agree a cruiseship where Fido or Fluffy can be on board with the rest of the family would be wonderful! Can this ever happen? Who knows… many countries have various rules regarding pets. But why not have a local cruise ship that accepts pets? Many cruise ships have a Canada-USA only itinerary, this could be a good start. I sure hope we can go back to those golden days too, it would be so much fun!

  5. Fantastic post, friend! I wonder if there has also been an upward trend of fear since then? The most oft cited reasons for not allowing pets in places like restaurants and such are things about dirt or disease (which doesn’t seem to be a problem here in Belgium, where Luna has been in three different eating establishments on day one)…so I wonder if, as they discovered rabies and such, they thought perhaps dogs had other things they could be transmitting…and with the fear came the regulations?


    • Good point Gigi – only now science has proven the opposite to be true! so we need to adapt. Total diseases a dog can give a human? 4 …. Total diseases a human can give a human? 4,762 …. yeah …. We really really need to get “with it”. Not to mention – who wants to live in fear. Ugh.

      LOVE being in Europe … Enjoy Belgium – Mom is half Belgian on the maternal side!!!

  6. One (sort of) famous train that still allows dogs of all shapes & sizes is the Caledonian Sleeper which goes overnight from Scotland to London. I was just on it in first class a few weeks ago (you have to have exclusive use of your birth to bring a dog–so you’d have to be going first class) and I wish I could have had my pup with me! It certainly would have made the trip cozier, but with the restrictions on dogs coming in-cabin on planes into the UK and the restriction on dogs coming through the chunnel on Eurostar…it made taking my Callie to the UK pretty difficult/borderline impossible under my circumstances. 🙁 Another time I guess.

    • Too bad – because the UK just dropped the quarantine in January 2012 … would have been good to know someone that had tested the waters! I know we will certainly try! As for the sleeper THAT is very very good info Mia! Thank you … in fact we might just do it that way! Bless you for always having such wonderful info to share with all our readers!

  7. Mia – I don’t know your situation, but two workarounds for bringing a dog to the UK:

    1) Fly to mainland Europe and take the ferry across. There are two or three ferries that allow dogs either in a car or in a kennel (the kennel isn’t with you, usually, but beats shipping the dog as cargo!).

    2) If you are eligible (if you have a mental health diagnosis and need your dog with you), you can make your dog an ESA. ESAs can fly with you in cabin, even to the UK. Unfortunately, this is only for people who need their animals to manage a mental health issue, but just in case you are eligible and didn’t know it, thought I’d say something!

    • I have yet to receive an answer on that one Jessica! I have sent letters and emails enquiring. Fingers crossed? I believe they would be – especially if they had Dog Day Care, Agility Classes, Obedience Training, Health Seminars and so on … you could have entire cruises built on getting your dog fit, well trained etc. I don’t know why no one is doing this.

    • Thanks so much for dropping in Jessica and for taking the time to comment! I do hope to shed some light on this some day soon. I am on a mission to sniff out the facts!

  8. Fascinating times they were and you captured just about the essence of it,again the world is belonging to the rich and richer ,the problem of today is down to the stupid suing culture and insurance pay outs.
    I would love to bring my dog to a restaurant even had the idea of a hotel to cater especially for people with doggies ,dog beds luxuries in your room with you and dog menu,would it be possible here? no way unless if I had millions to fund the operation ,reason why? the stupid insurances .
    people has this poor idea that dogs are dirty and therefore should be kept out of the way.Monte that is so wrong I live with dogs and I have better immunity than many ,also the whole idea of babies ,toddlers and dogs not to be shared people favor children in public places ( I dont know why) so yes the dog no matter how well behaved is ousted of the parks,botanic gardens hotels and houses . not fair! lets bring up the lap dog status and the lap dog in public places idea definitely! count us in Victor says so! and Richard too! awesome it be a whole cruise catered for you and doggie yes deffo!!great blog! romance and a modern perspective!
    ps:( look this lady up, she brought the first chihuahuas to UK: I wonder how? cant get her name now dam ,but I will and send it to you xxx)

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