Monday, February 21, 2011

President Franklin Roosevelt and Fala

Today is President's Day, which means that we won't get any mail.  But we weren't expecting anything special anyway, so we don't really care.  The important thing about President's Day is that it's a good chance for me to tell you about another First Dog, and the one I'm going to tell you about was probably the most famous First Dog of all.  His name was Fala, and he was a Scottish terrier that belonged to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Mr. Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in a town called Hyde Park, New York.  His family was rich, so he got to do all kinds of stuff that rich kids do, including go to Harvard.  After he finished college in 1904, he started Columbia Law School, but in 1907 he passed the state bar exam, so he dropped out of law school.

In 1902, Mr. Roosevelt met his future wife, Eleanor, whose last name was also Roosevelt.  She was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, and she was a 5th cousin, once removed, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  They got married on March 17, 1905, and they had six children.

Mr. Roosevelt got polio in August of 1921, and that made it so he couldn't walk.  After that, he had to use a wheelchair to get around, but he didn't like people to know that he was disabled, so he mostly didn't let anyone take his picture in his wheelchair.

In 1929, Mr. Roosevelt got elected Governor of New York, and then in 1932, he got elected President of the United States.  At that time, the Great Depression was going on, and lots of people were poor, but President Roosevelt was good at being cheerful and making everyone feel better.  Plus he got a lot of laws passed to help make jobs for people.

Okay, so now I will tell you about Fala, the Scottish terrier.  He was born on April 7, 1940, and he was a gift to Mr. Roosevelt from his cousin, Margaret Suckley.  The president had had dogs before, but he had a very special bond with Fala.  At first, Fala's name was Big Boy, but then President Roosevelt named him Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after John Murray of Falahill, who was a famous Scottish ancestor.  But then, because that name was really long, it got shortened to just "Fala."

Everyone in the White House kitchen loved Fala, and they all gave him yummy food to eat.  But then Fala got sick from eating all the food, and he had to go to the pet hospital.  After that, his dad said that nobody else was allowed to feed him.  So even if one of the cooks made Fala's supper, he couldn't feed it to Fala because the president wanted to do it himself.  Sometimes he even made important visitors wait for their suppers until Fala had been fed.

President Roosevelt taught Fala to do all sorts of tricks, such as rolling over and offering a paw for important visitors to shake.  And Fala could also stand on his hind legs when The Star-Spangled Banner was played.

Fala got to go on all sorts of trips with President Roosevelt.  Sometimes he went on the president's plane, which was called Sacred Cow, and other times he went on the president's train, the Ferdinand Magellan. And if the president went somewhere on a ship, Fala got to go there, too.

One time, after a trip to the Aleutian Islands, there were rumors that Fala got left behind by mistake, and that the president sent a big ship back to get him.  The Republicans made a big deal out of this, and the president got mad.  So he gave what is called the "Fala Speech," and some of what he said in this speech was this:  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 had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands 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--such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president longer than anybody else ever was.  He served three terms, and then he was elected to a fourth term, which he was just starting when he died.  This was back in the days before terms limits, so now it is against the law for anybody to be president more than two terms.

Anyway, when President Roosevelt was going to get sworn in for the third time, Fala tried to get in the car with him, but a Secret Service man took him back to the White House.  Fala spent several days sulking there, and then he ran away.  A stranger found him in front of the Capitol Theater and took him back to the president.

Fala was a big help in raising money to help the British during the war.  Any pet owner could donate 50 cents to buy a "Barkers for Britain" tag.  This money went to the Bundles for Britain group and was used to buy clothes and blankets and other things that the British needed after they got bombed by the Nazis.  There were more than 30,000 tags given out during the 7 months of the project, plus 1,000 tags in Australia.  Fala was named the "Barkers" president, and he had tag number 1.

It seemed like Fala was so popular that everybody in America knew who he was.  He had his picture taken a lot, and he got lots of fan mail.  He even got so much mail that he had to have his own secretary to help him answer it all.  The soldiers in Europe during the war sometimes would ask "What is the name of the president's dog?" in order to find out if somebody was an American or if they were a German enemy who did not know about Fala.

Sometimes President Roosevelt went to a place in Georgia called Warm Springs.  He had made a spa  there where people who were disabled could come and enjoy the warm water.  Usually when he went to Warm Springs, he took Fala along.  On March 29, 1945, the president went there, and on April 12, he suddenly got a terrible headache.  It turned out that he was having a stroke, and he died later that same day.

Fala rode with Mrs. Roosevelt in the funeral procession, and then he went to live with her at Val-Kill, which was her home in the Hyde Park area.  Fala never quite got used to his dad's being gone, and sometimes he would lie by the door like he was watching for him to come in.

Val-Kill was in the country, so there was lots of land to run around on.  Mrs. Roosevelt brought Fala's grandson, Tamas McFala, to Val-Kill so that Fala would have another dog to play with.  The two of them would run off together and come back later all covered with burrs and mud.  Then they would take nice, long naps.  Sometimes Fala would sleep on his back with his feet in the air.

On April 5, 1952, Fala died.  He was buried close to President and Mrs. Roosevelt's grave.  When a bronze monument was made of President Roosevelt in Washington. D.C., Fala was also included.  He is the only presidential pet to get to be part of a monument.  And I think this makes him pretty darned special.


  1. Dear Piper,
    I wish people still honored dogs! It would be FUN FUN FUN to celebrate animals! Too bad only Chinese people are the only people left :( Oh well there is always the future! Any way LOVE your blogs! Sorry I couldn't comment! I was but then my computer malfunctioned so I could not post the comment so I can't write anymore noce long comments but I can make an acception and let myself get carried away but I am still worried my computer will go bezerk (sorry for the missspell but that is how it sounds to me!) while I am typing so I am doing it as fsst as I can so you may see some words spelled incorrectly! Any way keep on writing!

  2. Dear Tas,

    I think dogs are still being honored, like for instance at dog shows and in the military. But it would be better to have more dogs honored more of the time, like you said. At my house, we dogs get honored with dog food twice a day! LOL

    I am sorry your computer isn't working right. I hate it when that happens. I don't care about the misspellings as long as I can figure out what you are saying, which I can.

    Bye now!