1 of 12
“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, on my wife or on my sons,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt told an audience at a campaign dinner on Sept. 23, 1944. “Not content with that, they now include my little dog Fala.” Roosevelt was referring to a Republican attack on his reelection campaign, which claimed the president had left his Scottish Terrier behind on a visit to the Aleutian Islands, and spent millions in taxpayer dollars to send a destroyer to recover him.
Not only was the story completely fabricated, Roosevelt explained, but Fala was offended. “Now of course I don’t resent attacks, and my family don’t resent attacks,” he told his supporters, “but Fala does resent it.”
It was not surprising that the president rushed to his dog’s defense. Political analysts would say he was simply deflating the negative publicity of the attack with humor. But this was not merely political theater—Roosevelt’s affection for the terrier was well documented.
Fala appeared in LIFE magazine almost as frequently as his master. The dog had been given to Roosevelt as a gift from his cousin in 1940, and subsequently accompanied the president in the Oval Office, on official state visits and on overseas trips to meet dignitaries as esteemed as Winston Churchill. When they were at home, Roosevelt had the White House kitchen place a bone on his daily breakfast tray for the dog.
Fala quickly became accustomed to the spotlight. “When cameramen visit the White House to photograph the President or visiting dignitaries,” LIFE wrote of him, “he often insinuates himself into the foreground and poses like any publicity-seeking ham.” He barked during meetings, starred in a short MGM movie, made ample use of the presidential pool and “traveled the world to be present when history was being made.”
The controversy, of course, blew over, and Roosevelt would go on to defeat Republican Thomas Dewey with 432 electoral votes to Dewey’s 99. Roosevelt died the following spring, and Fala, seven years later, would be buried near his human at the family’s Hyde Park estate.
Watch footage of FDR defending his loyal pet below:
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.