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Betty White will be remembered most for her iconic screen roles, but off-screen, one of her life’s great passions was caring for animals and advocating for their welfare. Inspired by that legacy, a grassroots campaign swept across social media in recent days leading up to what would have been her 100th birthday on January 17. The #BettyWhiteChallenge asked her fans to make a contribution to a local animal shelter in their community – and the results would surely have delighted White herself.
“I think you could safely say that, in her name today, an excess of $20 million will be raised for animal welfare,” Gord Hunter, Executive Director of the Kingston Humane Society, told Global News Canada. Hunter’s own shelter in Kington, Ontario alone had already accepted $17,000 in donations in White’s name as of yesterday.
It’s difficult to get an exact figure on how much has been donated so far as the challenge encouraged donors to give in small amounts to organizations all over the world, but many shelters have reported significant influxes. In Denver, Colorado, one shelter received $29,000 on White’s birthday; an animal shelter in Chelmsford, Massachusetts reported being “blown away” by $17,000 in donations, enough raised in one day to prepare that shelter for the spring season.
In honor of @BettyMWhite's birthday and her love for animals, we encourage you to take part in the #BettyWhiteChallenge by donating to your local shelter or rescue. To find your local shelter, visit https://t.co/tlNwRJnB8g pic.twitter.com/zWqrGx9x8c
— ASPCA (@ASPCA) January 17, 2022
In Los Angeles, where White lived and worked, donations have poured in, particularly to the Los Angeles Zoo, an organization with which she worked for decades. She was a trustee and “honorary zookeeper” at the facility, which she helped renovate and improve over many years, and the Zoo will be offering a self-guided on-site and virtual tour of the park inspired by her work, particularly her fundraising for behind-the-scenes animal care.
From those in the wild, to those in shelters, guide dogs for the blind – she loved all animals, large and small. She was never one to stand outside and criticize. She would always work with us to do what she could to help,” Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association President Tom Jacobson said Monday at a special ceremony marking White’s centennial. “She always looked forward, never back, and wanted to have a positive impact on the world, and that’s what she did. She was an endearing figure on and off the screen.”
So far, the L.A. Zoo’s Betty White Tribute Fund has accepted more than $72,500 in donations.
As with many things that go viral, it’s a bit tricky to be exactly sure where the #BettyWhiteChallenge began, but most sources say it really got rolling with a tweet posted by @icedcoffees on December 31, in the immediate wake of the announcement of White’s passing. Vanity Fair reports that, soon after her tweet, the #BettyWhiteChallenge hashtag started trending – and the donations began to flow. Soon, tweets began to coalesce around the idea of making a special push for donations on the 17th, in honor of her birthday, leading to yesterday’s outpouring.