FDR's Fala featured in book 'Dogs of War'
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Fala, the beloved Scottish terrier who brought levity to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential years, is in the news again.
The diminutive canine took away some of the burdens of a presidency that stretched from the dark days of the Depression to the near end of World War II. Fala delighted Roosevelt at the White House, at his New York home at Hyde Park and at the Little White House, Roosevelt’s rural Georgia retreat at Warm Springs.
Fala is one of a trio of famous pooches profiled in “Dogs of War,” written by Kathleen Kinsolving. In the book, Kinsolving relates the stories of Fala, Willie and Telek – all owned by key figures during World War II.
Willie was a beloved pet of Gen. George S. Patton, and Telek belonged to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who later was one of Roosevelt’s successors in the Oval Office.
The publication of Kinsolving’s book coincides with a new film, “Hyde Park on Hudson,” which focuses on the relationship between FDR and his cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, who gave Fala to her busy relative.
The film opened on a limited basis late last year and is showing on more screens this weekend. The film stars Bill Murray as Franklin Roosevelt, Laura Linney as Suckley, Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt and Samuel West and Olivia Colman as the visiting British royals.
“Dogs of War” is liberally illustrated with vintage photos, including a charming view of Fala posing for news photographers and scenes with both the president and the first lady.
According to “Dogs of War,” Suckley decided in 1940 “that FDR might benefit enormously from the friendship of a new dog.” When a friend offered her a Scottish terrier pup, she presented “Big Boy” for Roosevelt.
The president renamed the dog “Murray, the Outlaw of Falahill,” in honor of a Scottish ancestor. It was a nickname, Fala, which stuck with the endearing dog as he moved onto the world stage with his famous owner.
Kinsolving detailed Roosevelt’s attachment to Fala, his strict rules about the dog’s diet and some of their travels. She also related the humorous – and effective – speech given by FDR after he was accused of using war resources for Fala’s transport.
Kinsolving termed April 12, 1945, the day FDR died at Warm Springs, as “a tragic day for all of America.” Fala experienced “terrible grief,” she wrote.
The president had feared his peripatetic wife would be too busy for Fala after his death, and had made plans for him to live with Suckley. Fala, however, ultimately came to live with Eleanor Roosevelt at her New York retreat, Val-Kill Cottage, until his death in 1952.
Kinsolving – a dog lover as well as an author – views the dogs of Roosevelt, Patton and Eisenhower as “secret weapons” who helped them in their struggle against Nazism. The dogs helped their powerful owners handle the enormous stress of battle.
Studies have found that dogs can reduce stress, blood pressure and anxiety. “I think that’s what inspired me to write this book,” Kinsolving told ABC News, “to show how important the human-animal bond truly is.”
Fala is buried at the foot of FDR’s grave in the family cemetery at the Hyde Park estate and memorialized in a statue at the president’s side at the FDR Memorial in Washington.
Kinsolving has been a lifetime supporter of a variety of canine organizations, which includes volunteering as a puppy socializer for Guide Dogs for the Blind, based in Marin County, Calif. She also teaches English and journalism at Centreville High School in Clifton, Va.
She also wrote a biography of her father, “Gadfly: The Life and Times of Les Kinsolving – White House Watchdog.”