Fala (dog)

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FDR and Fala at table.jpg
FDR with Fala at Warm Springs, Georgia
Other appellation(s) Murray the Outlaw of Falahil (full name)
Species Dog
Breed Scottish Terrier
Sex Male
Born Big Boy
(1940-04-07)April 7, 1940
Died April 5, 1952(1952-04-05) (aged 11)
Resting place Springwood
Occupation Presidential Pet
Owner Franklin D. Roosevelt
Named after John Murray of Falahill

Fala (April 7, 1940 – April 5, 1952), a Scottish terrier, was the beloved dog of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of the most famous presidential pets, Fala captured the attention of the public in the United States and followed Roosevelt everywhere, becoming part of his public image.[1] Given to the Roosevelts by a cousin, Fala knew how to perform tricks; his White House antics were widely covered in the media and often referenced both by Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Fala survived Roosevelt by seven years and was buried alongside him. A statue of him alongside Roosevelt is prominently featured in Washington, D.C.'s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the only presidential pet so honored. Another statue of him has been placed at Puerto Rico's "Paseo de los Presidentes" in San Juan.

Early life[edit]

Fala was born on April 7, 1940. He was given as an early Christmas gift to Roosevelt from his cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.[2] As a puppy, Fala was given obedience training by Suckley, who taught him to sit, roll over, and jump. His original name was Big Boy; Franklin renamed him Murray the Outlaw of Falahill after John Murray of Falahill, a famous Scottish ancestor. This was later shortened to "Fala".[3]

Fala was taken to the hospital after a few weeks at the White House for intestinal issues. Roosevelt discovered that Fala had found his way to the kitchen, and was being overfed. Roosevelt issued an order to the staff that Fala would henceforth only be fed by the president himself.[2]

White House years[edit]

Fala's silver-and-leather collar, engraved with the words "Fala, the White House."

Fala moved into the White House on November 10, 1940 and spent most of his time there[4] until Roosevelt's death in April 1945. Fala also traveled with Roosevelt to his home (Springwood) in Hyde Park, New York and Warm Springs, Georgia (Roosevelt's favorite spa town), where he received treatment for his polio-induced paralysis.

An MGM film about a typical day in the White House featured Fala. Fala also became an honorary private in the U.S. Army by "contributing" $1 to the war effort for every day of the year and setting an example for others on the home front. During the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers asked one another the name of the President's dog, expecting the answer "Fala," as a supplementary safeguard against German soldiers attempting to infiltrate American ranks.[5]

Fala often accompanied Roosevelt to important events; he traveled on Sacred Cow, the president's airplane, and the Ferdinand Magellan, Roosevelt's custom-made train car, as well as by ship. He was with Roosevelt at the Atlantic Charter Conference, Quebec, and the meeting with President Manuel Ávila Camacho of Mexico in Monterrey.[3]

In 1943, Fala was the subject of a short series of political cartoons by Alan Foster titled "Mr. Fala of the White House". In the 1943 romantic comedy Princess O'Rourke, Fala was played by Whiskers.

Fala speech[edit]

Eleanor Roosevelt walking Fala after FDR's death.

On September 23, 1944, Roosevelt gave his famous "Fala speech" while campaigning in the 1944 presidential election. The 39:30 minute speech, which was broadcast nationwide by radio,[6] was delivered at a campaign dinner in Washington, D.C., before the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America. In the speech, Roosevelt attacked Republican opponents in Congress and detailed their attacks on him. Late in the speech, Roosevelt addressed Republican charges that he had accidentally left Fala behind on the Aleutian Islands while on tour there and had sent a U.S. Navy destroyer to retrieve him at an exorbitant cost to the taxpayers:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family don't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I'd left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself ... But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog![7]

After Roosevelt's death[edit]

Fala and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the minutes after President Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Georgia, Fala behaved very strangely. An FDR biographer wrote about the death scene: "...a snapping, snarling series of barks was heard. No one had paid any attention to Fala. He had been dozing in a corner of the room. For a reason beyond understanding, he ran directly for the front screen door and bashed his black head against it. The screen broke and he crawled through and ran snapping and barking up into the hills. There, Secret Service men could see him, standing alone, unmoving, on an eminence. This led to the quiet question: 'Do dogs really know?'" [8]

Fala attended Roosevelt's funeral[9] and went to live with the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill.[10] She took great pleasure in Fala's company, and the two became inseparable companions.[10] She often mentioned Fala in her newspaper column, "My Day".

It was Fala, my husband's little dog, who never really readjusted. Once, in 1945, when General Eisenhower came to lay a wreath on Franklin's grave, the gates of the regular driveway were opened and his automobile approached the house accompanied by the wailing of the sirens of a police escort. When Fala heard the sirens, his legs straightened out, his ears pricked up and I knew that he expected to see his master coming down the drive as he had come so many times. Later, when we were living in the cottage, Fala always lay near the dining-room door where he could watch both entrances just as he did when his master was there. Franklin would often decide suddenly to go somewhere and Fala had to watch both entrances in order to be ready to spring up and join the party on short notice. Fala accepted me after my husband's death, but I was just someone to put up with until the master should return.

—Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own

In November 1945, Fala nearly died after he was attacked by Elliott Roosevelt's gigantic bull mastiff, Blaze, at the family's Hyde Park estate. Blaze had already become infamous that January, after the White House shipped him - on urgent war priority - across country to Elliott's bride Faye Emerson in Hollywood, in the process bumping numerous servicemen off airplanes. Elliott's biography states: "That fatal day, Blaze found Fala and ripped into the little black Scottie until bystanders could subdue the aggressor, reportedly with a large rock to the head. Fala was between life and death for several days. According to Elliott, for his mother's sake, 'Blaze was put away.'"

Blaze's decapitated head showed no sign of rabies. Fala recovered.[11]

Fala died on April 5, 1952, two days before his twelfth birthday, and is buried near the Roosevelts in the rose garden at Springwood.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Edward Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, Cornell University Press, 2001, p. 183. ISBN 0-8014-8737-4.
  2. ^ a b Goodwin 1995, p. 200.
  3. ^ a b c "Biography of Fala D. Roosevelt". Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. Archived from the original on 7 December 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Video: Allies Win Sea, Air Battle In Fight For Africa (1944). Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  5. ^ Charles MacDonald, A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997, p. 226. ISBN 0-688-15157-4
  6. ^ "Dewey Response to 'Fala Speech'", Ithaca College.
  7. ^ Goodwin 1995, p. 548.
  8. ^ Jim Bishop, FDR's Last Year. New York: William Morrow, 1974, pp. 590-591.
  9. ^ Goodwin 1995, p. 615.
  10. ^ a b Goodwin 1995, p. 620.
  11. ^ Chris Hansen, Enfant Terrible: The Times and Schemes of General Elliott Roosevelt. Tucson, AZ: Able Baker, 2012, pp. 419-420.

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