Today’s post commemorates National Dog Day, which celebrates dogs everywhere on August 26. Bow-wow!
Calling all dog lovers—arguably history’s best known Presidential pet was Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, Murray the Outlaw of Falahill (Fala for short), who was named after FDR’s famous Scottish ancestor, John Murray. He was given to Roosevelt in 1940 as a Christmas gift by his cousin Margaret Suckley. Not long after entering the White House, fame encompassed Fala’s life as he began to appear in political cartoons, news articles, movie shorts, and even FDR’s campaign speeches.
He was beloved by all White House staff, so much so that he was hospitalized after his first few weeks at the White House from being overfed by the kitchen staff. Due to this incident, FDR issued an order to his staff stating that Fala was to be fed by the President alone—talk about royal treatment. Furthermore, Fala was so well known that Secret Service agents called him “The Informer” because, during secret wartime Presidential trips, the dog was instantly recognized while out on his walks.
Aside from being President Roosevelt’s right hand man, Fala’s political side was put to good use in 1941 when he was named national president of Barkers for Britain.
A bit of context: Great Britain was besieged by Nazi Germany’s aerial bombing from 1940 to 1942, and U-boat attacks on shipping caused shortages of supplies. In the United States, a nationwide effort to provide nonmilitary aid to the British was organized under the name Bundles for Britain, which collected cash contributions and donations of clothing, blankets, and other basic necessities.
In collaboration with Bundles for Britain, Barkers for Britain was created as a way for dog lovers to support the nationwide Bundles effort, not by donating goods, but by buying memberships. Upon payment of 50 cents to their local Barker chapter, a new member dog received an official Bundles for Britain tag to wear proudly on his or her collar. Fala was issued Tag #1 and was made national president of the organization. He was often asked to sign membership certificates with his paw print.
Barkers for Britain was so successful that nearly 30,000 tags were issued in the United States between April and October 1941, and another 1,000 were exported to Australia for Barkers chapters there. In response to the efforts, Mrs. Wales Latham, president of the national Bundles for Britain organization, wrote to Fala—“the first dog of the United States and a great leader of all loyal American canines”—and thanked him for raising “his voice in loud barks for the courageous people of Great Britain.”
With more accomplishments than most canines, Fala outlived his beloved Presidential master by seven years and then was buried alongside him. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC, features a statue of Fala and Roosevelt. The galleries of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, have a permanent exhibit on Fala, which includes Barkers for Britain items.
Based on the article “Fala and the Barkers for Britain” from the Winter 2006 issue of Prologue Magazine. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/winter/pieces-fala.html