Betty White died late December 2021, just before turning 100. White was best known for her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, but she was also a lifelong animal rights activist. To honor her devotion to animals, fans created the #BettyWhiteChallenge, a social media movement calling for $5 donations to local animal rescues and nonprofits in her memory.
The hashtag went viral on January 17, which would have been White’s 100th birthday, and it has raised thousands for animal charities. Though it’s too soon to measure the total impact of the Betty White Challenge, local groups have seen an influx of donations and took to social media to thank followers for their contributions.
The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando received more than $42,000, WFTV’s Nick Papantonis reports, while the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Texas thanked people for more than $30,000 in donations. Uber announced it would donate $50,000 to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in honor of Betty White.
White has inspired fans outside the United States, too. Animal rescue groups and shelters in Alberta, Canada received more than $186,000 in Betty White’s honor, per Global News’ Emily Mertz.
"The outpouring of love, the amazing amount of donations being given to all types of animal organizations is such a tribute to how Betty lived her life," her friend and longtime agent Jeff Witjas tells People’s Kate Hogan and Liz McNeil. "As Betty would say, 'Thank you from the bottom of my heart.'"
Before becoming an actress, White wanted to pursue a career as a forest ranger or a zookeeper, per Smithsonian magazine’s Megan Gambino, but at that time, women couldn’t become rangers. In 2010, the Forest Service made White an honorary forest ranger.
"Wilderness is getting harder and harder to find these days on our beautiful planet, and we’re abusing our planet to the point of almost no return,” she said at the ceremony in Washington, D.C. at the time. “But whether I’ve been a legitimate forest ranger or not, I’ve been working for the cause for the last 89 years, and I will continue to work for it as much as I can.”
White served on the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association’s board of trustees starting in 1974. In 2010, she became chair of the board, and she became an honorary zookeeper three years later. She also served as a trustee, board president, donor and spokesperson for the Morris Animal Foundation.
White’s personal contributions to animals are countless. She once arrived at the LA Zoo with her car trunk filled with empty toilet paper tubes she had been saving because she knew the zoo used them for animal enrichment games, Today’s Jen Reeder writes. After her death, the Audubon Nature Institute wrote on Twitter that White had paid for a plane to evacuate penguins and sea otters following Hurricane Katrina. Throughout her life, she supported several animal-related nonprofits by making donations, volunteering, fundraising and recording public service announcements, per Today.
“There isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about,” White told Smithsonian in a 2012 interview.