The immortalising of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ‘s Scottie Fala in a statue at FDR’s musuem caught my eye instantly. As I was focusing, a young boy moved to sit next to Fala with his own Scottie. A quick nod from his father gave me permission to click too and I was lucky to catch this photo.
Coming across this photo many years later got me searching for more info and thinking of the doggies who’ve been our pets. All dog lovers will have their favourite stories of their pets but few I doubt had bronze statues or even a written bio. At best we all have photos. When I think of pet doggies in our family names like Nick ( in fact we had a series of dogs who were called “Nick”) and there was my uncle’s Bulldog “Bullet” who went with the family to Hong Kong when they emigrated. Another on that springs to mind was my twin cousins Athula and Aruna Kirtisinghe’s Alsation “Trigger.” We morphed Trigger into a lion and would ride on his back when we built a tree house on the Araliya tree and played Tarzen in their Greenlands Road House. Later on we had a Doberman cross we named Benjie and was Ranil’s pet in Nugegoda. He was my favourite and a hunter par excellence. In Hikkaduwa we had Lassie, who floated on a cushion and survived the tsunami of 2004. Unfortunately except for a collection of anecdotes and my photos of Lassie, we do not have interesting full bios for our faithful companions.
My search on FDR’s Scottie, landed me on the site of the Presidential Pet Museum — yes, there is one in DC! and there on the site is a whole biography of FDR’s Scottie.
Born on April 7, 1940, the Scottish terrier was a gift to the president from Mrs. Augustus G. Kellog of Westport, Connecticut through Franklin Roosevelt‘s cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. At first he was called Big Boy, but then FDR renamed him giving him the grand name Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after a Scottish ancestor.
Being the President’s pet was a privileged one. There must have been good karma somewhere that took him far, far away from a normal dog’s life. Fala even had a secretary to answer his fan mail. He had a bone every morning brought up on the president’s breakfast tray and he was served a full dinner every night. During the day, Fala would beg for food from the White House staff. He was so cute that he was fed all the time and became sick. The staff was then asked not to feed him extra food. His bed at night was a special chair at the foot of the president’s bed.
Roosevelt doted on Fala and he was a constant companion with him on long and short trips by train, car, or boat. Fala became a celebrity in his own right and was trained by Margaret Suckley. FDR introduced him to many famous visitors and Fala would rise to the occasion and entertain them with his tricks. He could even curl his lip into a smile for them. He met Prime Minister Winston Churchill of England in 1941 at the Atlantic Charter Conference in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland with the President.
Since Fala had to be walked during long train rides, Fala’s presence often revealed that President Roosevelt was on board. This led the Secret Service to codename Fala as “the informer.” In September 1942 and April 1943, Fala went on inspection trips of defense plants and visited Monterey, Mexico and President Camacho. In August 1943 and September 1944, he went to the Quebec Conferences.
In an interesting episode that happened in 1944, Fala was with the President on a sea trip to the Aleutian Islands. Rumors spread that Fala was accidentally left on one of the islands. During the 1944 presidential campaign, the Republicans accused him of spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars in sending a destroyer back for him. The President answered the attack in his famous Fala speech while talking to the Teamsters Union. Roosevelt defended his Scottie, saying:
“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. …”
Watch: FDR discusses Fala
There was another incident on a sea trip aboard the ship Tuscalosa in the West Indies. It was a hot day. The sailors were trying to cool off. They were lying on the deck stretched out in a row. Their bare feet were lined up. Fala caused quite a commotion by moving quickly along the row licking and tickling their feet.
And yet another time, Fala was with the President on a fishing trip to Florida. As the fish were caught, they were thrown in a pile on the deck. Quite a pile accumulated. They were all flip-flopping in the air as fish do. Fala began to flip-flop, too. It was such a fun game that he did it for several days.
In April 1945, President Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia. In the minutes after President Roosevelt died at Fala behaved very strangely. FDR biographer Jim Bishop 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?”
Fala attended the funeral. He went to live with Mrs. Roosevelt at Val-Kill. He never really adjusted to the loss of Roosevelt. Even so, Val-Kill was in the country. It was a great place to run, play, chase squirrels, and even cats sometimes. Mrs. Roosevelt brought his grandson, Tamas McFala to live at Val-Kill, too, and be Fala’s playmate. Sometimes they would run off together and get into trouble. They came home hours later covered with burrs and mud. By the end of such a busy day, he was an exhausted dog. Sometimes he slept on his back with his feet in the air.
Mrs. Roosevelt took great pleasure in Fala’s company, and the two became inseparable companions. She often mentioned Fala in her newspaper column, “My Day”, and wrote of him in her autobiography:
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.“
He was so popular that he received thousands of letters from people. He even needed to have a secretary appointed to him to answer his mail. One letter dated August 5, 1947, was from a poodle named Abigail. Fala chased a skunk once, which was very unpleasant for everyone. The poodle scolded Fala for not acting with more intelligence and dignity. Abigail hoped that Fala would never, ever let that unfortunate incident be repeated.
In 1942, a movie was made about Fala and his life in Hyde Park. Children and other visitors who come to the Roosevelt Museum and Library in Hyde Park, New York still can enjoy this video.
Fala is probably the only president pet to be memorialized in statuary. A statue of Fala stands next to one of FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C.
Text based on bio on The Presidential Pet Museum
Text of Fala Speech and photos in public domain from the Wikipedia
More info on Fala can be found on the above sites.
The images in the public domain are works of employees of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As works of the U.S. federal government, the images are in the public domain.