In honor of the personable little companion of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s White House days, the first Saturday in November has been designated Fala Day.
The puppy was born on April 7, 1940, in Westport, Connecticut, and was originally named “Big Boy.” He was given to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an early Christmas present by Mrs. Augustus G. Kellog, after a short stay with Roosevelt’s cousin, Margaret (“Daisy”) Suckley. Suckley gave him basic obedience training, and taught him to sit, roll over, and jump on command.
Big Boy moved into the White House on November 10, 1940, where he was immediately renamed “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill,” after a rebellious Scottish ancestor of Roosevelt’s. Soon he became known to everyone as “Fala”. He quickly became best buddies with the President, spending most of his day with him and accompanying him on trips by automobile, train, and boat.
Fala’s day would typically start with a breakfast bone that was brought up to him along with the President’s breakfast. During the day he might travel, receive dignitaries, or attend important government functions. Dinner was served to him by the President’s own hand. He slept at night on a chair at the foot of Roosevelt’s bed.
Soon after moving into the White House, Fala became ill, and had to go to the hospital with a serious intestinal disturbance. He recovered, but it was discovered that the little dog was so adorable that everyone in the White House was feeding him. After that, the President gave stern orders that no one except he himself was allowed to feed Fala. After that, Fala’s health was invariably excellent.
Fala attended the Atlantic Charter Conference in Newfoundland in 1941, and the Quebec conferences of 1943 and 1944. He was present for the signing of the Declaration by the United Nations in 1941, the agreement uniting the 26 nations at war against the Axis powers. He also inspected defense plants, and met with Winston Churchill and President Camacho of Mexico.
Fala received thousands of letters from fans during his term as White House Pet, requiring his own secretary to answer them. He was a great supporter of the war effort, and in appreciation of his example — he contributed $1 a day to the support of the Armed Forces — the U. S. Army made him an honorary private.
In 1944, a rumor was spread that the President had forgotten Fala and left him behind on the Aleutian Islands. In order to recover him, according to the rumor, Roosevelt sent a U.S. Naval Destroyer at taxpayer expense. The rumors were false, of course, and Roosevelt countered them in a speech to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America. Roosevelt said that, while he had grown inured to attacks on himself and his family, Fala was not about to take the charges lying down. “You know, Fala is Scotch,” said the President, “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 of two or three, or eight or 20 million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.”
In April, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia. Fala attended his funeral, but was distressed by the volleys fired by the West Point cadets, and barked at them. During the hymn, he rolled over in the grass — a trick that had been a favorite of his late master. He spent his final years with Eleanor Roosevelt, whose companionship he tolerated, but seemed to keep constantly alert for his master’s return. Mrs. Roosevelt said, “Fala accepted me after my husband’s death, but I was just someone to put up with until the master should return.”
After a time, Fala’s grandson, Tamas McFala came to live with Fala at Val-Kill, Eleanor and Fala’s home in Hyde Park, New York. The two spent many happy hours together. On April 5, 1952, Fala died, and was buried in the Rose Garden there two days later, on what would have been his 12th birthday. He lies just a few feet away from his beloved master and mistress.
Sources: “Fala (dog) , Wikipedia; “Biography of Fala D. Roosevelt “, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum; “Fala Roosevelt “, Find a Grave; “Fala — President Roosevelt’s Dog “, Class Brain; “FDR’s Fala, World’s Most Famous Dog “, BushyBarney; “Fala Day “, Ann Arbor District Library.