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1944

FDR defends his dog

On this day in 1944, during a campaign dinner with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a reference to his small dog, Fala, who had recently been the subject of a Republican political attack. The offense prompted Roosevelt to defend his dog’s honor and his own reputation.

After addressing pertinent labor issues and America’s status in World War II, Roosevelt explained that Republican critics had circulated a story claiming that Roosevelt had accidentally left Fala behind while visiting the Aleutian Islands earlier that year. They went on to accuse the president of sending a Navy destroyer, at a taxpayer expense of up to $20 million, to go back and pick up the dog. Roosevelt said that though he and his family had “suffered malicious falsehoods” in the past, he claimed the right to “object to libelous statements about my dog.” Roosevelt went on to say that the desperate Republican opposition knew it could not win the upcoming presidential election and used Fala as an excuse to attack the president. He half-jokingly declared that his critics sullied the reputation of a defenseless dog just to distract Americans from more pressing issues facing the country.

Roosevelt was indeed attached to his dog. Fala, a small, black Scottish terrier, accompanied Roosevelt almost everywhere: to the Oval Office, on official state visits and on long, overseas trips including one to Newfoundland in 1941 during which Fala met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Roosevelt’s cousin, Margaret Suckley, had given Fala to the president in 1940 when Fala was still a puppy. Although Eleanor Roosevelt disapproved of having a dog in the White House, Roosevelt adamantly kept the dog by his side. Fala slept at the foot of his master’s bed and only the president had the authority to feed him; the White House kitchen staff sent up a bone for Fala every morning with Roosevelt’s breakfast tray.

After FDR’s death, Fala lived with Eleanor and, when the dog died in 1952 at the ripe old age of 12, he was buried near the president at his family home in Hyde Park, New York.

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