The history of pets aboard with Cunard

Pets and animals have always been welcome aboard with Cunard. We examine Cunard’s friendly policy after almost 200 years of the line’s pet-friendly cruising

If you’re looking for a pet-friendly cruise ship, you can’t do much better than Cunard. Britain's flagship cruise line, the Rolls-Royce equivalent of Transatlantic travel, has always extended its luxurious service beyond mere humans.

Of course, this may come as a surprise when you consider Cunard’s decadent ships, no to mention their high-profile clientele and the luxurious nature of the line’s cruise packages. Yet, up until the turn of the 21st century, Cunard included accommodation – such as kennels and a cattery – for our furry friends in each ship's blueprint.

The kennels aboard the line's previous juggernaut, the iconic QE2, became so popular that owners had to book up to three years in advance. The original RMS Queen Mary (once robbed by Frank Sinatra) often acted akin to Noah's Ark, accommodating all manner of creatures from the Animal Kingdom.

From hippos to hip-and-trendy Hollywood fashion statements of handbag size, there's always been a representative of mankind's affection for our furry/scaly friends. It's not something that slowly developed over time, either. It's been like this for almost two centuries.

Animals sailing aboard Cunard voyages boast a long heritage that stretches back to the company's infancy. The first documented four-legged passengers can be found in paperwork from 1840 and the line’s first scheduled transatlantic service, RMS Britannia.

Cunard's RMS Britannia of 1840 had an onboard cat to help thwart mail-hungry rats. Credit: Wikicommons/Cunard

Felines earning their passage on RMS Britannia – protecting Cunard’s Royal Mail

Within the decks of Britannia roamed three cats. Passengers were forbidden to feed the cats, fearing that this would distract the resident felines from their duty of protecting the onboard mail from rats.

After all, there wasn’t much point promoting the shipping line’s mission goal of delivering the Royal Mail if it happened to be in tatters upon arrival.

Because rats liked to chew, shred and devour the Atlantic mail, Britannia’s three cats were granted free reign of the ship, able to help themselves to all the vermin they could find.

In addition to the cats hunting keenly to earn their passage, Britannia also carried chickens and a cow aboard. The chickens supplied fresh eggs while the cow provided milk that was reserved specifically for the use of women, children and invalids.

Of all the animals crossing with Britannia, it was the cow who was the least fortunate for, on the last day of sailing, the cow would be slaughtered to provide a final meal for passengers of fresh beef. This was quite a cunning marketing ploy for word quickly spread from those disembarking about the fine Cunard cuisine they had just enjoyed.

Captain - Cunard's most famous cat, with her kittens. Credit: Cunard Magazine/Issue16/Reddit

'Captain', the captain’s cat

Several decades later, in the early 1900s, another cat would enter service with Cunard – this time with Captain Rostron on board RMS Carpathia. In spring 1912, the steamship Carpathia had gained worldwide recognition thanks to her heroic efforts to power towards RMS Titanic as the ship had found itself in severe difficulty after hitting an iceberg.

In the following month – on May 31, 1912 – Captain Rostron and several of his Carpathia crew attended the New York City Winter Garden Theatre. A week later, Miss Grace Kemble and Miss Irene Claire – two of the chorus girls from the theatre company – presented Captain Rostron with a tiny, three-month-old kitten.

The young cat was all-black and wore a collar composed of rosebuds, he was intended as a gift of good luck for the RMS Carpathia who was due to depart for London.

The new mascot was readily accepted and named 'Captain' while the kindly donators were assured that Captain would enjoy comfortable accommodation within Rostron’s own cabin.

Two months later, the New York Evening World reported that Captain had conducted himself “like an old salt from the time the ship left New York until her return” upon his first trip across the Atlantic under the command of Captain D. Dow of the Carmania.

Elsewhere, Captain Rostron had been temporarily caught in London as he contributed to the ongoing Titanic inquiry.

However, Captain the cat was soon reunited with Rostron. Subsequently, they would go on to sail upon many Cunard ships together. After famously commanding Carpathia, Captain Rostron would command several Cunard vessels including Carmania, Campania, Lusitania, Aulania, Mauretania, Ivernia, Andania and Saxonia.

As he did so and, in turn, as he also rose to become Commodore of the Cunard fleet, Rostron had many cats accompany him. In Volume 16 of Cunard Magazine, there featured a charming photograph of Captain Rostron’s cat and her kittens during a Mauretania voyage in 1917 (above).

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor enjoyed travelling alongside their pets with Cunard. Credit: Picryl

Pets of the rich and famous: Travelling in style with Cunard

It hasn’t solely been animals working for a living on board or good luck mascots that have travelled aboard Cunard’s luxurious liners, many pets have enjoyed passage with the famous cruise line too.

An early photograph shows three champion Afghan hounds, who were more than happy to pose with a Pekingese who had randomly decided to join them.

In 1947, film actress Elizabeth Taylor was photographed aboard RMS Queen Mary in Southampton with her two French poodles Teeny and Cheery.

Throughout the 40s and 50s, Taylor’s precious pups enjoyed frequent voyages on Cunard’s liners. They enjoyed exercise on the sports deck while the crew chefs provided meals that met their specific dietary requirements.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also made use of Cunard’s willingness to allow animals on board, bringing their beloved pug onto the Queen Mary.

On one Cunard trip, the Duke of Windsor commented it was a pity there were no lampposts on board and promptly afterwards a lamppost from Cunard’s base in Liverpool was installed alongside the onboard kennels on former flagship Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1963, a most unusual animal called Jimmy travelled with Cunard. Jimmy was a three-year-old hippopotamus who was relocating from Naples to Chester Zoo. Boarded Cunard’s cargo ship Pavia, Jimmy was provided with a cold shower every hour during the day and an awning over his cage to protect him from the sun.

In more recent years, Pudsey – the 2012 winner of Britain’s Got Talent – has also travelled with Cunard after becoming the first dog trick act to win the competition. During his voyage, Pudsey treated guests to a surprise live performance on board Queen Mary 2.

Modern day Cunard traditions still permit pets aboard the QM2. Credit: Cunard

Queen Mary 2: Travel with Cunard for the best pet-friendly Cruise

Pet-friendly cruises are an excellent solution for owners who wish to share their holiday experience with their beloved animals. It can also be a great comfort to have your pet onboard rather than worrying about what’s going on back at home.

They also provide a superior alternative to the often cramped cargo conditions offered on flights should you and your pet be relocating across the Atlantic.

Cunard pride themselves on being the only transatlantic cruise line to provide facilities for both cats and dogs aboard the Queen Mary 2 - and luxurious pet facilities at that. Queen Mary 2 boasts of 12 kennels as well as a designated exercise, play and walking area, all located on deck 12.

Catering for your pet’s requirements are a care team including a kennel master and assistant who aim to uphold Cunard’s longstanding tradition of safely transporting animals.

Dogs can look forward to regular walks with the team and having both a lamppost and a fire hydrant to choose from when nature calls – you can thank the Duke of Windsor for the inspiration!

Meanwhile, cats enjoy comfortable accommodation and a regularly attended litter tray, as well as access to a scratching post. All beds, food and blankets are inclusive of the pet care fee.

Cunard provides 5-star luxury for dogs and cats. Credit: Cunard

Owners are welcome to drop-by to see their pets during set visiting hours, spread across four sessions per day, as well as being able to mingle with fellow pet owners at a daily meet-up. You are also welcome to play with your dog on deck during the longer visiting session which takes place every afternoon.

Partnering up with upmarket clothing manufacturer Barbour in 2016, Cunard are also able to offer smart pet accessories on board including jackets, collars and leashes, fully ensuring you will be able to make other pet owners jealous of your travels upon disembarking.

If that’s not enough, you can also request a professional pet photoshoot aboard the Queen Mary 2. Which owner could resist an image of their pet wearing a bright red Cunard bell-top hat and jacket?

We can’t help but think that Wally the Corgi wears his Cunard hat rather well! If hats aren’t your pet’s thing, a handy life buoy can feature in the shot instead.

Further details on Cunard’s pet-friendly cruises are available through the cruise line's 'Pets onboard' page.

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About Gillian Carmoodie

Gillian has been a part of the heritage world for longer than she would care to admit. From piloting pre-war racers across Montlhéry and traversing the Cumbrian mountains with an Edwardian automobile, to flying a WWI Tiger Moth and obsessing over all things shipping, Gillian lives for history.

When not buried in a book or lost to the archives, you'll usually find her under the bonnet of her classic Rover or exploring the old shipyards of the North East. When partaking in work for RNLI, Land Rover or RRM, Gillian mostly runs on high-octane Earl Grey.