Canine Comfort and the Commander-in-Chief

The Unique Friendship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Dog Fala

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President Harry Truman once quipped, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”[i] Truman’s predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt found such a friend in his beloved dog, Fala, a black Scottish terrier, who was his constant companion. Comforted by his devoted dog, Roosevelt led America through the critical crisis of the Great Depression and World War II.

Loyalty to Roosevelt was evidenced by Fala’s constant presence at the side of America’s weary war time President, who was paralyzed from the waist down due to Polio. Accompanying the Commander-in-Chief on US and overseas trips, Fala’s favorite mode of transportation was FDR’s convertible car. The open air top provided easy access in and out of the vehicle for FDR’s limited mobility, while his well-traveled dog delighted in the happiness of a car ride. 

Among their favorite destinations for leisurely car rides was Warm Springs, Georgia, FDR’s personal retreat, where he received treatment for his paralysis. Dubbed the “Little White House,” Roosevelt found the therapeutic waters at Warm Springs helped him regain strength to resume his political career while providing a positive outlet for his struggle with polio.[i] The therapeutic value of canine comfort became apparent to me during my recent recovery from hip joint replacement surgery.

With thick, black hair reminiscent of FDR’s Fala, my affectionate miniature schnauzer,

Anna provided a calming presence that enabled me to rest and regain full mobility. The UC Irvine Medical Center’s Pet Therapy Program concurs in Therapy Dogs are a Patient’s Best Friend stating, “petting a warm and affectionate dog can help patients heal, having watched the animals bring smiles and lift the spirits of their patients for nearly two decades.” [i]

The unique friendship of America’s 32nd President and his dog Fala is exhibited at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC. Prominently featured sitting next to President Roosevelt is a statue of Fala ­- the only presidential pet to be so honored. The memorial stands as a testament to the enduring truth that – dogs are a man’s best friend.

End Notes

i Moser, Don, All the Presidents’ pooches. Smithsonian Magazine, June 1997.

ii Georgia Historic District, Roosevelt’s Little White House State Historic Site and Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, National Park Service, retrieved November 19, 2018.

iii UCI Health, Therapy dogs are a patient’s best friend, UCI Health Live Well, April 19, 2018.

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