Just about the time he finally got all four legs under him, and you know how spraddle-legged they are when they first stand, not his mother, but it was like Aunt Maude, one of the adult camels, came over. As if to say, “Oh, what a beautiful baby,” she touched him with her nose and splat! Down he went. He had to start all over again.
Betty, what animal has the best sense of humor?
Not so much the great apes, but monkeys. Elephants have a lovely sense of humor too. The Los Angeles Zoo had three tiger cubs that I followed for their whole first year. There is a pool in their habitat. They stalk each other. One would come very quietly and all of a sudden push his brother into the water. That was funny. That would make me laugh every time.
You are clearly a huge advocate of zoos. But some people aren’t. What do you say to them?
So many people have a closed mind on zoos. They think no animal should be in captivity, they should all be in the wild in their own habitat. Well, of course, that is a myth. Humans have already taken their habitat; many species have no wild habitat anymore. So what the zoos do, that some of the “zoophobes” don’t understand, is work not only with the captive animals but also with the dwindling populations in the wild. What they learn from the captive animals they can apply to the populations in the wild. In many cases, species are still around that would not be without zoos.
Your passion for animal welfare, on at least one occasion, has caused you to turn down a script and an acting role. Can you tell me about this?
It was the Jim Brooks’ movie As Good As It Gets. They had this puppy dog, this adorable puppy, that at one point they dropped down a laundry chute. It landed on a pile of laundry in the story line, and I turned down the role. There are a lot of people in apartments who would think that was a solution. It would either be funny to do that or it would be a solution to a barking neighbor or something like that. It certainly wouldn’t always have a happy ending. So I said as long as that scene was in the film, I wouldn’t do it.
In terms of fan mail, you make it a priority to personally respond to fans that write about the loss of a pet. Why is that? And what advice do you give them?
Because I know how it hurts. If they write to me about that loss, I can’t not respond, to give them a little word of comfort or sympathy or let them know I certainly understand. I answer pet loss mail and I answer mail from widows. They know I lost my beloved husband [game show host Allen Ludden, who died in 1981] and new widows write to me and say, how do you get through it? What do I do? I can’t answer all the mail, of course, but those two subjects always get a response.
Dues for your official fan club, Bets’ Pets, go toward animal charities. Has there ever been a huge gesture made by an avid fan of yours, with your interest in animals in mind?