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Fala of The White House

Updated on November 6, 2014

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Black Scottish Terrier Dog, Murray the Outlaw of Fala Hill

The only American pet ever to share a US President's memorial statue, and possibly his bed. The only presidential dog to appear in two MGM short movies. The only Scottish Terrier to attend a high-level international strategy conference in World War II, to be the subject of fierce campaign slanging, and to have his name used as a password in the Battle of the Bulge.

That was Fala, dog of the FDR White House.

As the constant companion and faithful pet of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from 1940 to the President's death in 1945, the little Scottish Terrier was a popular character with his family, his staff, and international dignitaries alike. Fala attended the funeral of his beloved master, and at his own life's end the little dog was laid to rest nearby. This is his story.

Photo: Fala by cliff1066™ [CC BY 2.0] on Flickr

The True Story of Fala, by Margaret L. Suckley and Alice Dalgliesh
The True Story of Fala, by Margaret L. Suckley and Alice Dalgliesh | Source

Pedigree and Training

Fala's Quarter-Year in Connecticut

Fala was a black male Scottish Terrier born on April 7, 1940, in Connecticut. His pedigree (per The New Yorker, 1952) placed him as a third-generation American dog, descended from Jamie who was brought from Scotland in 1929 by a prominent banker. His mother was Keyfield Wendy; his sire was Peter the Reveller. Littermates are unknown.

Originally named Big Boy as a pup, the Scottie was renamed Murray the Outlaw of Falahill (after John Murray, a distant ancestor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt), but always known as Fala.

For the first few months after weaning, Fala - or "Big Boy" as he was still called at that time - received a basic education at Wilderstein, the Suckley family's estate at Rhinecliff, Rhinebeck, in the Hudson Valley of New York state.

Personally trained by Miss Margaret ("Daisy") Suckley, he was taught the good manners required by a companion animal who is to live a very public life. He also learned a few but effective tricks, all of which he would perform without hesitation if asked to do so, in fair exchange for dog biscuits.

Fala Goes to Washington - A Gift to President Roosevelt

When the little dog was considered "White House broken," at the age of four months, he was given to Miss Suckley's distant cousin and close friend - the newly re-elected President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Margaret "Daisy" Suckley seems to have had a keen understanding of the benefits of the human-dog bond. She felt the companionship of the winning little Scottie might give Franklin Roosevelt some respite from stress. And if ever a President needed a loving little dog who could make him laugh, it was FDR.

Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley
Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley

In addition to the pressures of guiding a world power through the Great Depression and Second World War, FDR had not only to live with the paralysis of polio but also to downplay his disability in public, lest he be seen as a less than vigorous leader. As well, the Roosevelt marriage had gradually become more an "armed truce" or political partnership than a source of sustaining intimacy, for reasons that were probably of little interest to a dog...Daisy Suckley lived out her century and left a rich legacy of diaries and papers that tell of day-to-day life in the Roosevelt White House, including the amusing doings of Fala and her own dog Button, as well as visiting dogs and dignitaries, royalty and statesman of global stature.

 

You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.

— Harry S. Truman
Franklin D. Roosevelt with four dogs in Hyde Park, 1901 [public domain]
Franklin D. Roosevelt with four dogs in Hyde Park, 1901 [public domain]

FDR's Favorite First Dog

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a genuine dog lover, like the rest of the Roosevelt family, but Fala was the paws-down favorite.

The many other Roosevelt family dogs who had romped through the White House earlier in FDR's presidency had been banished to the Hyde Park estate, perhaps at the urging of the Secret Service (who may have been somewhat nervous ever since Teddy Roosevelt's bull terrier, Pete, almost caused an international incident by biting the trousers of the French Ambassador) but more likely for their own atrociously wild behavior.

"We had our troubles with dogs in the White House almost from the start," wrote Grace Tully, FDR's private secretary, but "Mr Fala" was a "Scottish gentleman."

Fala Plays with FDR

Fala, however, was a cute little dog with charming manners, who soon made himself popular with the White House staff. He arrived in the White House with a repertoire of tricks - he could sit, beg, roll over, and bend the White House staff to his charming will, to the point that FDR had to lay down the law on the steady supply of extra treats that started to make the dog's weight a matter of some concern and gave him intestinal troubles. Henceforth, as this wartime newsreel reports, Fala was served his meals "direct from the hand of the President".

Eleanor Roosevelt, Fala, and MacKenzie King at Quebec, Canada for conference - 11 September 1944 - Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 - 1962 [public domain]
Eleanor Roosevelt, Fala, and MacKenzie King at Quebec, Canada for conference - 11 September 1944 - Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 - 1962 [public domain]

First Dog of the WW2 White House

Once the United States entered the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt's Scottie was a real "poster pup" on the "home front." A dollar a day was donated in his name for the war effort, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made two short patriotic films in which he starred in his role as the First Dog of the nation. He may have been too short-legged for active duty (and too much needed at the side of his powerful master, in those troubled times), but Fala was given the honorary rank of Private and gave up his chewie toys to support a public appeal for scrap rubber.

The two were practically inseparable, and FDR taught Fala to stand on his hind feet whenever the national anthem was played, as well as to shake hands with visiting diplomats and heads of state. The Scottish Terrier met all the distinguished visitors to the White House and often accompanied the President on his travels both within the United States and abroad. In this archival photograph, Fala stands on his hind legs to earn a treat from Eleanor Roosevelt, while Winston Churchill looks on - no doubt one of the lighter moments of the Second Quebec Conference in September 1944.

I have a Scottie. In him I find consolation and diversion... the "one person" to whom I can talk without the conversation coming back to war.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

Fala Takes Offense, 1944

Franklin Roosevelt's now-famous Fala Speech of September 23, 1944, was broadcast nationwide in the midst of the wartime presidential election campaign. Some have credited FDR's re-election that year in part to his report of Fala's outraged response to opposition rumors that FDR had supposedly forgotten his pet and left him behind on an Aleutian island, sending a naval vessel back to pick up the dog at some astronomical expense.

No true dog lover would have believed that a man would forget his furry travelling companion, of course, but some response to the opposition charge was clearly required. While the President himself declined to take offense at the allegations, as he noted in this, one of his most famous speeches, his little dog Fala was reportedly insulted to the core of his wee Scottish heart...

First Dog Fala - by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
First Dog Fala - by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

Personal Life and Family

The President's pooch was much in demand with the lady dogs of the nation, or at least their owners, who badly wanted a litter of puppies sired by the First Dog, but all offers for breeding opportunities were gracefully declined by Fala's personal secretary.

In 1945, however, he was put to stud with Button, a Scottish Terrier owned by Margaret Suckley. The liaison of Fala and Button produced a pair of puppies, on March 9, 1945. The pups were at first named Meggie and Peggie McFala - the prefix Mc being a Scot denotation of decendency; thus, McFala, "child of Fala." Later, when Meggie proved to be male, he was renamed Fala McFala.

President Harry S. Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, other members of President Roosevelt's family, and a portion of the crowd at the funeral ceremony for Franklin D. Roosevelt, taken at the burial site in Hyde Park, New York. - 14 April 1945 - U.S. Nationa
President Harry S. Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, other members of President Roosevelt's family, and a portion of the crowd at the funeral ceremony for Franklin D. Roosevelt, taken at the burial site in Hyde Park, New York. - 14 April 1945 - U.S. Nationa

In Mourning for FDR

Franklin Roosevelt died suddenly, on April 12, 1945, of a cerebral hemorrhage. It's said that at the moment of FDR's death, Fala "knew" - he suddenly began acting very oddly, barking in a strange voice and staring into space as if seeing something that no one else could see, then running from the house in great distress.

Fala attended the President's funeral at Hyde Park, along with the dignitaries and family, and was part of the retinue following the casket to the grave waiting in the Roosevelts' family cemetery.

We know that dogs are capable of profound grief, and there is no doubt that Fala mourned the loss of FDR. For a very long time afterwards, according to Eleanor Roosevelt with whom Fala went to live out his remaining seven years, the little Scottie dog would listen for the sound of a car in the drive or a wheelchair in the hallway, expecting at any minute that his master would return... perhaps with a dog biscuit.

R.I.P. Murray the Outlaw of Fala Hill

Leather dog collar with silver tag engraved with "Fala, the White House." National Park Service [public domain]
Leather dog collar with silver tag engraved with "Fala, the White House." National Park Service [public domain]

Fala died on April 5, 1952, just two days shy of what would have been his 12th birthday. His remains rest near his beloved master's grave, in the rose garden at the Roosevelt family home at Hyde Park, New York.

Guestbook - Is there a dog like Fala in your life?

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a nice story. Fala will always be remembered.

    • profile image

      BarbsSpot 4 years ago

      @Lensmaster...I had a Newfoundland -- thinking about making that the title of her longer story. I shared her partially self-told story here recently in "A Newfoundland Rescue Story". It was two years before I adopted again -- the little Border Terrier mix in my arms at left. Dogs are lovable companions who never stop giving. I've always had a canine partner.

    • profile image

      small dog lady 4 years ago

      What a terrific lens - so interesting!!! It really does underline the human-animal bond. Great work - thanks!

    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 4 years ago

      A nice piece of history, thanks.

    • roseambrose profile image

      roseambrose 4 years ago

      Lovely lens about a very special dog. We still remember our 3 special dogs who are no longer with us.

    • CaztyBon profile image

      CaztyBon 4 years ago

      I also had a dog that I always will remember.

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 4 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      We used to have a dog- we still miss him. Lovely lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Yes...I had a Scottie named Tavish, and while few remembered my name in vet school, they knew him. He was the demonstration dog for many things--physical exams, ultrasounds,etc. I minis him

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      What a great story-I love my dogs too

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Congratulations on Lucy's adoption, Dave. There is something profoundly comforting about having a dog in your life, it's true - they never judge us for our human failings!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Yes. We have a new dog that's five months old named Lucy. I have not lived with a dog since I was a child in the 1960s. When we first got Lucy, I didn't expect to like having her around. And at first, I didn't. But to my surprise, I have quickly grown to love her. It amazes me that she is always happy to see me. With as many enemies as any president has, I imagine FDR was really happy to have a friend like Gala who was always happy to see him.

    • Weremuffin profile image

      Weremuffin 4 years ago

      What nice detail here and an all-around well constructed lens. I used to live pretty close to Hyde Park, and I remember this from school field trips and family visits.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great story, it's almost like looking through the eye of fala. I hope he's in Dog Heaven!

    • Tim Bader profile image

      Tim Bader 4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      Great tribute to a special dog.I'd never heard of Fala before I saw your article, but you drew me in!

    • christmasbaby profile image

      christmasbaby 4 years ago

      I remember stories of Fala and FDR from childhood visits to Hyde Park. Thank you for reminding me of them.

    • Loretta L profile image

      Loretta Livingstone 4 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

      A lovely story, but how sad for poor Fala.

    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 4 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      Very nice tribute! I remember seeing a photo of FDR and his dog once... but now I actually know something about it.

    • MarilynThompson profile image

      Marilyn Thompson 4 years ago from Washington State

      What a wonderful tribute to Fala, well done!

    • wyzeguru profile image

      wyzeguru 4 years ago

      Fala is an inspiration to all dogs out there! Thanks for the research and information on this potentially ignored piece of history.

    • profile image

      The-Quirky-Banana 4 years ago

      What an interesting hidden story! Congrats on the purple star! :)

    • profile image

      getupandgrow 4 years ago

      I've just clicked the link to say I like this lens. That is not strictly accurate. I *love* this lens. As a Brit, I knew nothing about Fala at all, and this is a fascinating piece of canine (and political) history. Thanks for sharing!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Awwwww. Such a wonderful story. I am so happy you made this page. And you did a wonderful job too - not too much, not too little. Thank you! Squid blessings to you.

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 4 years ago

      I saw this story on the front page of Squidoo all day today, and finally just HAD to see what this was about. This is such a sweet story! The idea of little Fala hoping to see FDR day after day after FDR's death pulls at my heartstrings. You did a lovely job presenting this! *sniff* Squid Blessed!

    • profile image

      MarcellaCarlton 4 years ago

      Such a sweet story. As a dog owner I know about the bond of love between human and dog. It is everlasting. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I never knew about FDR's dog. This is some great info. Thanks!

    • CrystalNici LM profile image

      CrystalNici LM 4 years ago

      What a fantastic story! I am English and had never even heard about Fala but I have to say you learn something new every day and this is something I have really enjoyed learning!

    • justramblin profile image

      justramblin 4 years ago

      I enjoyed learning about Fala from this well written lens! What a cutie he was. I loved learning about the Fala speech.

    • pauly99 lm profile image

      pauly99 lm 4 years ago

      Very interesting story. Like most folks who found this lens, I had not heard of Fala until this time.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      What a fantastic topic for a lens. Loved being introduced to the presidential pup. Fala's story is wonderful in every way. Congrats on your feature!

    • profile image

      AngelaKane 4 years ago

      I never knew about President Roosevelt's dog Fala. Very interesting and insightful story.

    • Ibexing profile image

      Ibexing 4 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your lens, it is interesting how certain dogs like Fala find a way into peoples hearts.

    • WeaselPuppy profile image

      WeaselPuppy 4 years ago

      awwww - my parents have a scottie. This lens gives me warm fuzzies :-)

    • Bonfire Designs profile image

      Bonfire Designs 4 years ago

      Such a cool presidential puppy lens, I remember going to the Hyde Park NY home for a tour and buying a little Fala statue in the souvenir store because I thought he was so cute!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      Good historical information on a well-loved Scottie.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @chezchazz: Thank you, Chazz! I'll bet your Gran had great stories...I first heard about the 'first dog' Fala years ago from an old fella from Campobello Island (Canada) where the Roosevelts had their summer home. He used to talk about driving Eleanor Roosevelt and Fala to some event somewhere in New England, a year or so after FDR's death.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 4 years ago from New York

      What a wonderful lens. I remember my grandmother talking about Fala, but I don't think she knew or remembered the president's pet's name-and so I didn't either until I saw this page. Blessed and featured on Still Wing-ing it on Squidoo.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      My mom used to talk about FDR's dog. She loved the President so much.

    • flycatcherrr profile image
      Author

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @choosehappy: Yes, when I hearof a companion animal acting 'odd' when his human passes away, the story often rings true. FDR and Fala were very close, so I don't doubt it here either.

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 4 years ago from US

      I have no doubt Fala 'knew' the moment of FDR's death. They just have a very unique connection with us, don't they? Such a sweet touching story. I had never heard of Fala before. Thanks and congrats. #blessed

    • Scraps2treasures profile image

      Scraps2treasures 4 years ago

      I believe we saw Fala's statue at the FDR memorial when we were in DC. So I enjoyed learning of his story. Blessed by a Squid Angel :)

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 4 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Really nice story about a man's best friend. Blessed

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Such a distinguished dog. Another item for my list - "What have the Scots ever done for us? Apart from giving us antibiotics, anaesthetics, televisions, telephones, macadamised roads, pneumatic tyres, bicycles, steam engines, The Bank of England, the BBC .... (the list goes on and on) ... and great dogs."

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      The dog we had when I was born was a Scot called Omar. I love Scottish Dogs, they're so intelligent and they have a mind of their own. Blessed.

    • profile image

      atomicgirl24 4 years ago

      Great, interesting read-- Fala sounds so adorable!

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 4 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I really enjoyed reading about Fala. I didn't know about him before.