2010-03-24 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Fame”. Fala’s paw prints are etched into our history.

Fala, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s popular Scottish Terrier, might well be the most politically influential pet ever to live in the White House. He’s the only one to have his own monument. Fala was present during memorable moments of World War II. In addition, the dog paired with FDR helped demonstrate that physical disability need not limit anyone’s achievement. Only three photos are known to exist of FDR in a wheelchair, and in one of these, Fala is sitting on his lap. At the FDR memorial in Washington, the effects of Roosevelt’s polio are no longer hidden. Two statues are side by side: FDR sits in his wheelchair next to Fala, his devoted dog.

Fala was born in 1940 and brought to the White House by FDR’s cousin, just after Roosevelt’s historic third election. She had trained the puppy named “Big Boy” to do tricks for food. All the President’s bigger dogs were staying at Hyde Park because of fears they might scare diplomatic guests. However, the tiny Scotty got the honor of living in Washington with the President who renamed him “Scottie Murray the Outlaw of Falahill”, after a Roosevelt Scottish ancestor. Soon after it was shortened to “Fala”.

The Scotty became FDR’s constant companion. He slept in a chair at the foot of the President’s bed and nibbled a bone brought up on Roosevelt’s breakfast tray each morning. Fala was fed so many snacks by staff and guests that he got fat and wound up at the hospital. After that, no one was allowed to sneak him treats except Eleanor who continued to coax him to perform tricks for sponge cake. Then when a movie crew bribed him with bacon, the rich diet caused a relapse. Later, Fala entertained everyone on a Florida fishing trip by rolling over mimicking the flopping fish. FDR often hand fed Fala and made many dignitaries wait for him until the dog’s meals were over.

Shown in photo, FDR & Fala. Shown in photo, FDR & Fala. The pampered pup traveled everywhere with the President. He was often seen sitting at FDR’s shoulder in an open car. To the Secret Service’s chagrin, the Scotty would tip off the press when the President arrived by train – Fala would appear while ramps were being set up for the President’s wheelchair. Biographer Mark Derr feels that the scrappy Terrier gave Americans a sense of security that FDR was on the move and healthy during a time of world crisis. On a smaller scale, Fala was a physical symbol of the President, providing an illusion of energy and vigor. The dog also spent a lot of time in Georgia at the Little White House, a family retreat with warm mineral springs that FDR used to relax and soothe the effects of his polio.

Faithful Fala was aboard the ship, sitting at the world leaders’ feet when Roosevelt and Churchill signed the 1941 Atlantic Treaty. Then in 1943, the Scotty attended the Quebec Conference and went along to inspect defense plants in Mexico. He even ran through the crowd in the Oval Office during the D-Day press conference. As an honorary private, Fala was the poster pup for the army’s K9 corps and a mascot for bond drives.

On a journey to Hawaii, the President noticed the dog was missing for a brief time. When he found him, Fala had bald patches. Sailors had enticed him below (perchance they had Eleanor’s sponge cake recipe) and plucked out tufts of hair to mail back home.

But it was Fala’s most controversial trip- the one to the Aleutian Islands- and Roosevelt’s subsequent speech that may have helped FDR win the 1944 Presidential election. Rumors spread that the President had accidentally left the dog behind, and had sent a destroyer at taxpayers’ expense to fetch Fala. FDR countered with his famous “Fala Speech” to the Teamsters Union in DC, telling his opponents: “Well of course I don’t resent such attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does ... his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.”

We all know FDR won the election but didn’t live to see the end of World War II. When he died April 1945 in Georgia, supposedly Fala, back in Washington, got up from a sound sleep, broke the screen, and took off onto a hill barking for hours. Fala rode on the President’s funeral train, whimpering at the gun salute and rolling over during the hymn. He lived the rest of his life with Eleanor and a Fala grandson, yet always seemed to await the President’s return. Each police escort siren, each open door perked up his hopeful ears. At his death in 1952, Fala was buried at Hyde Park beside his beloved master.

…..Thus, with a heavy heart, this column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Kara Williams, my dear former third grade student, (as were her two older brothers). Last week when Kara died suddenly, she became an organ donor, a final act so in keeping with the sweet and giving young lady she always was. As a toddler, Kara cherished her toy Fala, a souvenir from Hyde Park. This Fala sparked Kara’s deep love for animals, especially Terriers. The stuffed Scotty became her “Velveteen Rabbit,” joining Kara everywhere – on sleepovers, doctor visits, vacations. Fala was about to tag along on a family trip to Greece then to college. Instead Fala stayed with Kara at the hospital. And now, he will continue to watch over her for all time.

For Adoption at Town Shelter of Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset: Our poster pets are waiting patiently. You may recall that “Cookie”#086 is the 13 year old Shepherd mix that a soldier about to be deployed overseas was forced to surrender. She is not asking for much- just a quiet, loving home. “Tiger” #770, in a lobby cage now, grew up at the shelter. He came in as a kitten last fall.

Dogs: “Romeo” Cane Corso mix- gorgeous green eyes; “Simba” Pit mix; Greyhound mix; “Abby”- Shepherd/Akita pup.

Cat: “Cosmo”- gray & white in lobby- also spent kittenhood at the shelter.

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