Franklin D. Roosevelt Defends His Dog – 9/23/1944

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On September 23rd of 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt defended his beloved dog, Fala, when he opened his presidential campaign with a speech to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union. 

The president could not resist talking about his dog, using him in anecdotes, telling funny stories about him. Obviously, FDR was quite attached to Fala. In the Teamsters Union speech, the president addressed a rumor going around that he had accidentally left Fala on the Aleutian Islands, and had sent a Navy destroyer (or was it a battleship? Or maybe a submarine?) over to fetch the dog, at a cost to taxpayers of two, eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty million dollars, depending on who you ask. Roosevelt made it clear that, although he and his wife and his sons don't mind the constant abuse, he claimed his right to object to false, libelous statements about his dog. He scolded his Republican critics for sullying the reputation of a defenseless dog. The speech was received with laughter, all over America. This became known as President Roosevelt's Fala Speech.

In reality, Orson Welles was helping FDR with his “less important speeches,” and defending Fala against the vicious Republican attack was actually Orson's idea.

Fala, the presidential pet, was a Scottish terrier. He was given to FDR by one of his cousins as an early Christmas gift in 1940, when Fala was still a puppy. The president named him Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after one of FDR's Scottish ancestors. This was soon shortened to Fala. The president became very attached to his little dog. Fala eventually became America's most famous presidential pet.

Fala lived in the lap of luxury at the White House, and everywhere President Roosevelt went, Fala followed along. Fala could be seen everywhere from the Oval Office to overseas, standing at the side of his master, or sometimes sitting in his master's lap. Fala even once met Prime Minister Winston Churchill. At home, Fala slept at the foot of his master's bed.

Fala could also do tricks, and FDR spoke of him frequently, with always an amusing story to tell. The White House antics of Fala the dog were constantly covered by media writers and cartoonists all over America. 

When FDR died in 1945, Fala immediately woke up barking, then ran from the house and raced barking up a hill, then just stood there quietly. After the death of his beloved master, Fala accepted FDR's widow, Eleanor, as his caretaker. But even Eleanor noticed that Fala only saw her as a temporary replacement until the day his master would finally come home. The world's most famous Scottie lived to be almost 12 years old, outliving FDR by seven years.

When Fala died, he was buried next to his master at their home in New Hyde Park, New York. A statue of Fala sitting beside FDR can be seen at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC. Fala is the only presidential pet to be honored in such a way. 

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Mike Sexton

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