Her show business career spanned eight decades, but Betty White was an animal lover even longer than that. The remarkable nonagenarian supported a variety of animal organizations, and worked to better the lives of dogs, cats and other critters.
Betty White captivated television and film audiences for 80 years. She was well known to fans of The Golden Girls – and also to the various animal organizations she supported. The prolific star’s animal work contributed to advancements in research and veterinary science, as well as animal welfare policies and practices.
With a career spanning more than eight decades, Betty White was truly a pioneer in television, appearing in numerous sitcoms, game, talk, and variety shows. In 1995, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, next to that of her husband’s, the late Allen Ludden. The seven-time Emmy winner, most famously known as the affable but naïve Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, and as everyone’s favorite homemaker and nymphomaniac, Sue Ann Nivens, on the The Mary Tyler Moore Show, passed away just shy of her 100th birthday, but her positive spirit lives on.
“Half animals, half show business”
Betty’s television career was far from her only accomplishment. She was a tireless advocate who worked to improve the lives of both people and animals. In fact, she once turned down an acting role in the film As Good As It Gets, because in one of the scenes, Jack Nicholson’s character is seen throwing his neighbor’s puppy down a laundry chute. “As long as that scene was in the film, I wouldn’t do it,” said Betty.
“As long as that scene was in the film, I wouldn’t do it.”
Among the many beneficiaries of her philanthropy are the animals she supported in her work with the Morris Animal Foundation, the American Humane Association, and the Los Angeles Zoo, to name a few. “I’m the luckiest person in the world,” she said. “My life is divided in absolute half: half animals, half show business.”
Betty served as board trustee member and president emeritus for the Morris Animal Foundation, which promotes the health, welfare, and longevity of animals through leading research in veterinary science. Over 1,700 studies have received funding from the foundation, which has been at the forefront of advancements in diagnostics, treatments, prevention, and cures for animals on every continent.
Betty was also a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for more than 40 years, championing the zoo’s public education and wildlife conservation efforts. She also worked with renowned primatologist Jane Goodall to redesign the chimpanzee and gorilla exhibits.
A lifelong love for animals
Betty’s passion for animals goes back to her early childhood. As she put it: “I’ve loved animals since I was in the womb.” She fondly remembered her mother and father as animal lovers too. “It is so embedded in me,” she reflected. “There isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about.” Truly, no animals were exempt from her curiosity and compassion, as she worked to better the lives of dogs, cats, horses, and wildlife around the world.
“I’ve loved animals since I was in the womb.”
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Betty was once asked what gifts she most loved giving. Her answer wasn’t surprising: “Money to my favorite animal charities.” The gift she was most delighted to receive was a Pekinese puppy. “It was a birthday gift from a man I was engaged to marry,” says Betty. “He brought the puppy and put it in my arms.” While the dog stayed, the man himself went away. “I never married him but I had that dog for 17 years. I called him Bandit, because he stole my heart away.”
“Animals don’t lie,” wrote Betty in her book If You Ask Me. “Animals don’t criticize. If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do.”
If animals could speak, they might say to Betty: “Thank you for being a friend.” (Sorry, couldn’t help The Golden Girls’ reference!) In all sincerity, however, animals can’t speak or advocate for themselves…Betty White spoke for them and her passion and dedication will be missed by many.
Nandini Maharaj is a writer and human-animal bond researcher with a PhD (Interdisciplinary Studies) from The University of British Columbia. Her work is featured in Thrive Global, University Affairs, and the Super Awesome Science Show. She is a dog mom to Dally, Rusty, and Frankie, and a lifelong fan of The Golden Girls. She can be found on Twitter @NandiniMaharaj_.