As the world celebrates the fresh start every New Year promises, there’s a dim spot in many hearts. In the final hours of 2021, Betty White passed away at the age of 99. She died just eighteen days short of celebrating her 100th birthday on January 17.
Throughout the years, she’s been there for us via movie and television screens, giving us a break from the real world with her comedy and her beautiful smile. But the eight-time Emmy Award winner not only charmed multiple generations of people, she also bettered the lives of countless animals.
Betty White, Hero to Animals
When Betty White wasn’t blazing trails in the TV world, she was advocating for animals, a passion she found early in life thanks to her parents’ love for animals. As White explained in her book, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t), her love for dogs was born when her father used to make and sell radios during the Depression, trading them for dogs when people didn’t have the cash to buy one. Having so many pups around made what she called a happy childhood even brighter.
In the introduction of her book Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, White wrote of her parents, “I am eternally grateful that they have passed much of that passion on to me.”
That early love of dogs and animals sparked her compassionate work to better the lives of animals. Something animal welfare groups and the furry ones in their care greatly appreciated for several decades. Thanks to White’s dedication and passion, more animals will find help and comfort for years to come in her name.
The Los Angeles Zoo
When the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens opened in 1966, White began volunteering her time to the animals in residence. She felt the animal enclosures needed improvement, and as she explained to AARP in 2011, “I’ve never been one to stand outside and criticize. I’d rather get inside and see what’s going on, see how I can help.”
And that’s just what White did.
By 1974, she sat on the board of trustees for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association(GLAZA). The zoo held a special place in her heart, and after the death of third husband Allen Ludden, the love of her life, one of her favorite places within its perimeters became the Australia section, where a plaque resided in his honor.
Tom Jacobson, president of GLAZA, told Today of her visits to the plaque, explaining, “She always makes sure the plaque looks good, dusts it off if it needs it. Then she’ll stay and speak a few words to Allen. That just grabs my heart that she does that. She does it every time she comes.”
Morris Animal Foundation
White also served the Morris Animal Foundation for more the fifty years, serving as Trustee, Trustee Emeritus, and President Emeritus. She also sponsored studies aimed at improving the lives and health of animals. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the foundation created the Betty White Wildlife Rapid Response Fund thanks to her generous donation, given with the aim of studying the impacts of the spill on bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. The fund is now known as the Betty White Wildlife Fund and has continued to aid animals in the wake of wildlife disasters.
Speaking with Today, Tiffany Grunert, president and CEO of Morris Animal Foundation, said, “Betty was a pioneer in recognizing the need for this type of emergency funding for animal health.”
You Can Help Animals Too
White also worked closely with the American Humane Society for more than 60 years and served as a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind beginning in 2005. In 2006, she was honored as the City of Los Angeles’ “Ambassador to the Animals” for her decades of work saving animals.
To honor White’s work with animals, social media has seen the rise of the #BettyWhiteChallenge. This challenge asks interested parties to donate $5 to their local animal shelters and rescues in White’s name.
If you want to honor White’s legacy, reach out to your local animal welfare groups for info about donations and volunteering. In doing so, you can imagine White’s brilliant and happy smile beaming just for you as you better the lives of cats, dogs, and animals of all make.
Fun Facts About Betty White
To further honor the legend, here’s a list of fun facts about Betty White you may not know:
- White wanted to be a forest ranger, but women were not allowed in the profession at the time. In 2010, the US Forest Service made White an honorary ranger.
- In the 1950s, White co-founded a production company entitled Bandy Productions, which was named after her dog Bandit.
- White not only appeared on multiple game shows, but she also hosted one called Just Men! On NBC.
- The early 1970s saw White writing and producing The Pet Set, where celebrities were interviewed with their pets.
- In 1997, she turned down a role in the film As Good As It Gets because the script contained a scene where a small dog was dropped in a laundry chute.
- In 2013, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made White an honorary zookeeper.
- Since 2014, White has held the Guinness Book of World Records title for”Longest TV Career for a Female Entertainer.”
- At one point, White had 26 dogs in residence.
- White also loved cats, one of her last being a Himalayan kitty.
- White’s last dog was a Golden Retriever named Pontiac, a retired guide dog with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
- The Los Angeles Zoo has an orangutang in residence named Elka, in honor of White’s Hot in Cleveland character, Elka Ostrovsky.
At the time of her death, White had no pets, but indeed, the Rainbow Bridge was alive with excitement as all the dogs, cats, and myriad other creatures who captured her heart have welcomed White home.
Rest well, Betty White.