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Visiting the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., The Ark editor Deborak Jones and I were intrigued by the statue of an alert Scottish Terrier at Roosevelt’s feet. We had recently been talking of the dogs each of us have loved and mourned and here, suddenly, was a former American President making a similar statement about the bond between human and canine – a message seen by millions of visitors every year. I decided to do a little investigating on Google.
Named ‘Murray, the Outlaw of Falahill’, after a 15th-century Scottish ancestor of the Roosevelts, the little black dog known simply as Fala was born on 7 April 1940. There seems to have been some hesitation by Eleanor to introduce another dog after a previous Roosevelt dog bit visiting British Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald. But the new puppy and the President bonded immediately with Fala accompanying Roosevelt everywhere, sleeping in his bedroom and being fed only by FDR. When Republicans claimed that Roosevelt had carelessly left Fala behind on an Aleutian island and then spent millions sending a destroyer to rescue him, Roosevelt reclaimed the high ground in a humorous speech in which he declared ‘a right to resent, to object to, libellous statements about my dog’.
Fala ‘The Informer’
In December 1941 representatives of 26 nations at war with the Axis signed ‘A Declaration by the United Nations’ in Roosevelt’s White House study with Fala in attendance but, as it was late at night, infamously snoring loudly. Despite this faux pas, Fala – wearing a collar engraved ‘Fala, the White House’ – was made an honorary private in the US Army after he began (according to the White House) contributing a dollar a day to the war effort. Meanwhile the little terrier travelled extensively with Roosevelt by train and ship as well as in the presidential airplane ‘Sacred Cow’. Because Fala needed to be walked during presidential train travel, thus alerting local citizens to the visitor from Washington, the Secret Service codenamed Fala ‘The Informer’. A movie was made about him in 1941 after which thousands of adoring fans wrote to him and it became necessary to engage a secretary to respond to the correspondence.
Fala is said never to have recovered from FDR’s death in April 1945. He spent his remaining years with Eleanor and his grandson Tamas McFala at Val-Kill in New York state, rushing out in joyful anticipation when a cavalcade of cars came up the drive. When Fala died on 5 April 1952, he was buried near President Roosevelt in the rose garden at Hyde Park, New York.
Lillian Craig Harris
Go on to: Second Nature
Return to: The Ark Number 216 - Winter 2010
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