This Actress Moved People to Laughter and Compassion for Animals

Her legacy will live on.

Jan 5, 2022
This Actress Moved People to Laughter and Compassion for Animals | Her legacy will live on.

Betty White, the beloved actress, comedian, and producer, was best known as the star of The Golden Girls.  But she was also an animal rights activist who worked for decades to champion animals. White even wrote a book about animals at the zoo and starred in the 1971 Pet Smart TV show. While her voice was silenced on December 31, 2021, at the age of 99, her legacy will live on.

“In addition to her legendary status as an actress, comedian, and producer, Betty White has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to helping animals in need, including dedicated support for local shelters and animal welfare endeavors, fiercely promoting and protecting animal interests in her entertainment projects, and personally adopting many rescued animals,” Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO, told TODAY. This sentiment has been echoed by the myriad of organizations that she supported.

White’s Early Love of Animals
White’s passion for animals was cultivated by her parents who took in pets whose families could no longer care for them during the depression. She wrote that her parents were animal nuts and passed that passion on to her in the introduction to her 2011 book Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo.

Her love of cats – both large and small – started with an orange tabby named Toby. She told Parade in a 2013 article: “My mother always told me that if Toby didn’t approve, I would have to go back.”

White also had a place in her heart for dogs and owned many, including  a Pekingese, miniature poodle, and a St. Bernard. She loved all things furry, reported The New York Post. She said she was the luckiest person because her life was divided in absolute halves; half show business and half animals. 

White’s Work With the Los Angeles Zoo
White had a lifelong interest in wildlife conservation and began working in the 1960s to improve animal conditions at the LA Zoo, according to TODAY. Now the zoo is known for quality habitats and education, thanks in part to White’s 50-year involvement as a volunteer and as a member of the board of trustees at GLAZA, the nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.

“The chimpanzee habitat — Jane Goodall advised us in the construction of that — and the gorilla habitat are really the result of her [White] advocating for those animals and helping us get the money to build those,” Tom Jacobson, president of GLAZA told TODAY.

White’s Support of Animal Health Research
White was also active with the nonprofit Morris Animal Foundation that advances animal health and served as a trustee for 50 years. She sponsored 30 health studies that helped to improve the health and wellbeing of dogs, cats, horses, and wildlife according to.Tiffany Grunert, president and CEO of Morris Animal Foundation In 2010, the organization created the Betty White Wildlife Rapid Response Fund after White funded research on the effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on dolphins.

Guide Dogs and American Humane
She was also a big supporter of guide dogs and co-authored two books about these service dogs with Tom Sullivan, a friend who lost his sight as a child reported TODAY. When Sullivan’s guide dog Dinah retired, white adopted her. White had previously adopted Pontiac, a career change dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind, who wasn’t suited to be a guide dog. Pontiac was too friendly to everyone he came in contact with but he was a perfect fit for White’s bubbly personality.

But White also financially supported various service dog organizations and American Humane. “She’s been involved with American Humane for over 70 years — that’s nearly half of our 145-year existence,” Robin Ganzert, CEO and president of American Humane told TODAY. “That makes her the longest living supporter of American Humane in our history.”

In 2012, the organization honored White with the National Humanitarian Medal and the Legacy Award. “We honored Betty with our highest award for what we termed her outstanding, unparalleled contribution over the course of her remarkable life, and in spreading understanding, empathy, kindness and humane treatment for all living creatures,” Ganzert said. “That is, in a nutshell, what utterly defines the incredible Betty White.”

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.