LOS ANGELES - Betty White, the legendary TV actress known for her iconic roles in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls," also had a passion off-screen: animals.
Fans, along with many organizations, plan to pay homage to the late actress and comedian on Jan. 17 — what would have been her 100th birthday — by donating to an animal shelter or rescue mission in her name.
(Credit: Humane Society of the United States)
The movement, which has been dubbed the #BettyWhiteChallenge on social media, will pay tribute to White while also helping animals in need. The challenge asks fans to pick a human society, local rescue or animal shelter in her memory and donate $5 in her name.
White was a lifelong animal lover who worked tirelessly to raise money and support various causes. White died from natural causes on Dec. 31 at age 99.
The cultural icon said her parents, who were "tremendous animal lovers," instilled in her a kinship toward all creatures from a young age.
"They imbued in me the fact that, to me, there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about," White told Smithsonian Magazine in 2012.
RELATED: A look back on Betty White’s career
"Betty’s love for animals as she says started in the womb….She had an uncanny way of communicating with all types of 4-legged creatures…The animals just knew through Betty’s voice and body movement that she meant no harm," Jeff Witjas, White’s agent told FOX Television Stations Group. "In fact, there may have been a few times she would make a funny face and the animal would show signs of smiling….Betty always knew how to work her audience. I plan on Betty’s birthday to do a number of personal and private things to celebrate her fabulous life."
Before pursuing a lengthy career in Hollywood, White even aspired to become a forest ranger — but at the time women were not allowed in the profession. The U.S. Forest Service later made her an honorary ranger in 2010.
In 1970-1971, she wrote, produced and hosted a syndicated TV show, "The Pet Set," to which celebrities brought their dogs and cats. She wrote a 1983 book titled "Betty White’s Pet Love: How Pets Take Care of Us," and, in 2011, published "Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo," described as "a love letter" to zoos, dedicated workers and the animals who live in them.
Her devotion to pets was such that she declined a plum role in the hit 1997 movie "As Good As It Gets." She objected to a scene in which Jack Nicholson drops a small dog down a laundry chute.
In her 2011 book "If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t)," White explained the origins of her love for dogs. During the Depression, her dad made radios to sell to make extra money. But since few people had money to buy the radios, he willingly traded them for dogs, which were housed in kennels in the backyard, at times numbered at as many as 15 and made White’s happy childhood even happier.
Ways to donate to animals in honor of Betty White
"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," Kitty Block, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement. "For decades, she was one of the nation’s most visible champions of animal adoption, enhanced veterinary care, humane education, and the benefits of pet-keeping, and she understood the deep reliance of local groups on the generosity and engagement of a sympathetic public. We are excited about what the Betty White Challenge could mean for these deserving organizations."
(Credit: Humane Society of the United States)
Lindsay Hamrick, the director of Shelter Outreach, Engagement and Training at the Humane Society of the United States, echoed Block’s sentiment during an interview with FOX.
"If there was ever a time to support them, it’s during this pandemic, which has been really critical for the animal shelters in your community to be able to support the members of the public and the pets that they love," Hamrick said. "Even five dollars is going to help ensure that they have programs to help homeless animals and to provide services to the community such as low-cost veterinary care or vaccinations."
Hamrick added: "I hope that this challenge really encourages folks who have never connected with their local animal shelter to reach out and find out about the work that they do."
Listed below are a few of the organizations accepting donations in honor of White. You can also reach out to your local shelter or animal rescue to make a donation in your own community.
Morris Animal Foundation
White supported many causes, such as the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to advance veterinary medicine and research.
She was part of the foundation’s family for more than 50 years, where she served as a trustee, board president, donor, spokesperson and other roles.
"It is hard to imagine a world without Betty in it. She was a tremendous animal advocate who tirelessly supported the work of Morris Animal Foundation to improve the health of animals globally. All of us at the Foundation are mourning the loss of this amazing woman," said Tiffany Grunert, President/CEO of Morris Animal Foundation in a press release. "We will miss her wit, her intelligence and, most of all, her love of animals and commitment to advancing their health. She was a true inspiration to our staff, her fellow trustees and all of our supporters."
Over 150 years, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it has worked tirelessly to put an end to animal abuse and neglect. The organization offers animal rescue, protection and placement.
"In addition to her legendary status as an actress, comedian, and producer, Betty White 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’s president & CEO told FOX in a statement. "Betty was a constant and compassionate advocate for vulnerable animals across the country, and the ASPCA encourages people to honor her by participating in the #BettyWhiteChallenge and donating to local animal shelters and rescue organizations."
Best Friends Animal Society
Best Friends Animal Society is an organization, operating the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals. The nonprofit does outreach nationwide with shelters, rescue groups and members to promote pet adoption, no-kill animal rescue and spay-and-neuter practices.
"Betty White was a champion for animals and Best Friends Animal Society was lucky enough to receive donations from her for over 20 years," Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, told FOX. "She was always thinking and caring for pets in need and this challenge is a beautiful way to support your local shelter and honor her legacy. We are so thankful for everything she has done for animals and we are so grateful for all who are donating to help save them all."
Animal Cares Center of NYC
The Animal Cares Center of NYC (ACC) rescues, cares for and finds loving homes for homeless and abandoned animals in the New York City area.
The center told FOX it has not seen an uptick in donations in honor of White, but expects it to come on Jan. 17 "when people will donate to honor her birthday."
Donate to the Animal Cares Center of NYC here.
For the past 145 years, American Humane said it is committed to ensuring the safety, welfare and well-being of animals.
Since White’s passing last month, the organization said it has seen traffic quadruple "along with a significant increase in donations from animal loves who want to honor Betty White’s legacy of love."
"We are so grateful for Betty’s longtime support and she will be dearly missed," the nonprofit wrote in a statement.
On its website, American Humane asks the public to join in honoring the late actress’s memory "to make the world a better, kinder place for animals."
Los Angeles Zoo will honor Betty White
The iconic actress served as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for nearly 40 years.
Tom Jacobson, the president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, told FOX Television Stations Group White joined the board in 1976 and was immediately an advocate for many different species.
"The first thing she did when she joined our board was create a television special to introduce our zoo to the Los Angeles community," Jacobson told FOX. "She advocated for a new gorilla habitat, which is one of the best in the country."
Actress Betty White attends the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's (GLAZA) 44th Annual Beastly Ball at Los Angeles Zoo on June 14, 2014, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)
Jacobson continued: "She was really well educated about the roles of zoos in nature and in the world. We’re so grateful for her for telling everyone what zoos do to save species from extinction."
The president said there has been a noticeable uptick in response to donate after the passing of White on Dec. 31.
"It’s been pretty incredible, actually, and very hard to miss," Jacobson continued. "Many, many people have reached out spontaneously, even before this nationwide campaign, to make gifts in memory of Betty."
Jacobson said the money will be put into a Betty White tribute fund, and once the money is collected, staff will figure out the appropriate use for the funds to pay tribute to the late actress.
Jacobson said the zoo plans to honor White on Jan. 17 with a number of events at the park and online, including a walk through the zoo in White’s "footsteps" with several displays of her and her love for specific exhibits.
"We had been working with Betty on how we might plan that day and celebrate a milestone, and we’re still going to celebrate it. It’s just going to be a celebration of her whole life," Jacobson added. "When someone like Betty loves animals and loves zoos, that influences other people in a really positive way."
Remember, honor Betty White with these free movies
Tubi, the largest online library of free TV shows and movies, also has Betty White fans covered on Jan 17.
Life with Elizabeth (1952): White became the first woman ever to produce a sitcom with this 1952 gem, in which she played a newlywed adjusting to the trials and tribulations of married life.
Date with the Angels (1957): Another jewel in Betty White’s sitcom crown, this one starred white as Vickie Angel, a woman newly married to an insurance salesman. Watch this one for a glimpse of the unbeatable timing that made her a sitcom icon.
Betty White’s Pet Set (1971): Betty White, a legendary champion for animals, interviews some furry friends and some less furry but more famous ones in this brief series. Her sit-down with friend and co-worker Mary Tyler Moore is not to be missed.
Betty White: Champion for Animals (2011): Emmy-winning actress Betty White visits zoos, parks, and aquariums to share unforgettable encounters with amazing creatures from around the world.
The Retrievers (2001): When the Lowrys' newly adopted stray golden retriever gives birth, they give away her litter and, in the process, learn what it means to be a family.
Fathom Events also announced plans last month to show a film titled "Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration" on Jan. 17.
After her death on New Year’s Eve, Fathom mourned White’s death and announced it would move forward with its plans to distribute the movie.
"We will go forward with our plans to show the film on January 17 in hopes our film will provide a way for all who loved her to celebrate her life—and experience what made her such a national treasure," producers Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein said.
Tubi has an expansive library of nearly 30,000 movies and TV shows from almost every major Hollywood studio. The free streaming service is available on a wide array of devices, including Roku, Comcast Xfinity, Amazon Fire TV, and more. Head to tubi.tv.com or the app store to watch.
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Kelly Hayes contributed to this story.