Today marks what would have been the 100th birthday of acclaimed actor Betty White. White, a self-professed animal lover and advocate, passed away aged 99 on December 31, 2021.
White’s passing made headlines across the world, sparking the launch of the Betty White Challenge. The campaign encourages fans to donate $5 to an animal charity in White’s name today (January 17), in honor of the Golden Girls star’s birthday.
Kitty Block is president of the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization. In a statement, Block said: “These are challenging times for the thousands of extraordinary local animal shelters and rescue groups across the United States, and there could be no better tribute to Betty White than to support them directly with donations, volunteer time and other commitment.”
Betty White and animal welfare
White was known for her frequent contributions to animal welfare causes, and had made her feelings towards animals clear over the years. “I just like animals better than people, it’s that simple,” she told Entertainment Tonight in 2015.
It’s likely part of the reason that growing up, White’s family repeatedly took in rescue animals. At one point, the family had 26 dogs in their care.
During her nearly ten decades of life, White had thrown her support behind a wealth of animal charities, including the Endangered Wolf Center. She was also a recipient of the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for her “commitment to wildlife and efforts to create a sustainable planet.”
White commented at the time: “What a privilege to be honored simply for my passion — for what I love most in the world —animals.”
White’s last companion animal, a golden retriever named Pontiac, passed away in 2017. The comedian didn’t adopt another pet after that, PEOPLE revealed. White’s executive personal assistant Kiersten Mikelas told the outlet that White didn’t “want to bring in somebody new” because she didn’t “want to leave them behind” when she died.
But, White still welcomed “lots of doggy visitors” and other “four-legged friends” after Pontiac’s death.
Betty White and zoos
White was also a fervent supporter of zoos – in particular, their conservation and education programs. In fact, she had volunteered with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for more than 40 years as a trustee and a chair.
The actor had helped fund the improvement of animal exhibits for gorillas, elephants, and chimpanzees. In 2011, she released a book about her experiences, called Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo.
“Modern zoos of today are not like the old, old, old zoos,” she told PEOPLE that year. “Lot of people have the impression they don’t like zoos because animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity; they should be in their natural habitat. But what they don’t realize is that the zoos not only exhibit animals, but they work in that natural habitat to save small populations of endangered species. They save many animals from going extinct.”
The ethics of zoos and similar facilities have long divided animal rights advocates. Like White, some stress the importance of zoo conservation programs. Others argue that such facilities exploit animals by using them for human entertainment.
Countless animal sanctuaries and non-profits across the world are in need of support, including in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, South Africa, the UK, and the US, to name a few.
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