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Fala of The White House
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.
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.
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
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".
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...
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.
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
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.