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Fala, the Presidential Dog


In July 1946, Eleanor, the great champion of equal rights and integration, traveling with her dog in the grand American tradition, found herself at a Portland, Maine, hotel that refused to let her keep Fala in her room. She promptly canceled the reservation and spent the night in a “tourist cabin.” That bit of Fala and Eleanor lore capped the front-page New York Times obituary announcing the death on April 5, 1952, of “the rakish little black Scotty who sat in on the making of history …” Euthanized just shy of his twelfth birthday, and of the seventh anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, Fala was buried in an unmarked grave in the Hyde Park rose garden at the feet of his “master and constant companion for five years.”

The language underscored Fala’s particular and general significance. Despite people and establishments who refused to welcome dogs, they had made the transition, like America itself, from the country and the yard to the city and the home. They had become not just dogs but personages, and their masters and mistresses were “companions.” Fala was an exceptional dog, of course, and the dog wars are not over to this day. People continue to abuse and abandon their animals and to breed dogs to satisfy their own vanity or to make profit. But a shift in perception, long underway, had become fixed in the collective psyche, as surely as America had changed from a predominately rural society through the Depression to an urban and suburbanizing society after World War II.


Extracted and adapted from A Dog’s History of America: How Our Best Friend Explored, Conquered, and Settled a Continent by Mark Derr; published by North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. © 2004 by Mark Derr. All rights reserved. Used with permission.




Mark Derr is the author of A Dog's History of America, Dog's Best Friend, The Frontiersman: The Real Life and Many Legends of Davy Crockett, Some Kind of Paradise and How The Dog Became the Dog and numerous articles on science, environment and transportation. He blogs for Psychology Today.

Photographs courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

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