Earlier this month, on January 17, acclaimed actor Betty White would have celebrated her 100th birthday. White, a self-professed animal lover and advocate, passed away aged 99 on December 31, 2021.
White’s passing made headlines across the world, sparking the launch of the Betty White Challenge. The campaign encouraged fans to donate $5 to an animal charity in White’s in honor of the Golden Girls star’s birthday.
The campaign was a success to say the least. According to Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, more than 390,000 people had donated to the challenge by January 21.
Together, they raised $12.7 million for various animal organizations.
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) raised more than $400,000 in donations through the challenge. The shelter said it was “awe-struck” by donators’ generosity.
And the Calgary Humane Society, also in Canada, was handed more than $91,000 as part of the Betty White Challenge, leaving the animal rescue “speechless.”
Further, Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, Ventura County Animal Services, the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha, and the Nashville Humane Association all received around $50,000 each.
The Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, which saw donations in surplus of $50,000, named the campaign a “gesture of pure love and admiration.”
Additionally, the Wisconsin Humane Society was given more than $60,000. “This tremendous wake of kindness will help countless animals and the people who love them,” the shelter shared online.
A post on White’s official Instagram page wrote: “As we continue to see numbers coming in from all over the world – it’s just absolutely how much money all of you raised for the animals.”
But the challenge brought in more than monetary gestures; The San Diego Humane Society, for example, adopted out 253 rescue animals around the late actor’s birthday.
The post continued: “She could have never imagined such an outpouring of love and would have been so grateful to everyone.”
Kitty Block is president of the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization. In a statement, Block said: “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.”
Betty White and animal welfare
White was known for her frequent contributions to animal welfare causes, and had made her feelings towards animals clear over the years. “I just like animals better than people, it’s that simple,” she told Entertainment Tonight in 2015.
It’s likely part of the reason that growing up, White’s family repeatedly took in rescue animals. At one point, the family had 26 dogs in their care.
During her nearly ten decades of life, White had thrown her support behind a wealth of animal charities, including the Endangered Wolf Center. She was also a recipient of the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for her “commitment to wildlife and efforts to create a sustainable planet.”
White commented at the time: “What a privilege to be honored simply for my passion — for what I love most in the world —animals.”
White’s last companion animal, a golden retriever named Pontiac, passed away in 2017. The comedian didn’t adopt another pet after that, PEOPLE revealed. White’s executive personal assistant Kiersten Mikelas told the outlet that White didn’t “want to bring in somebody new” because she didn’t “want to leave them behind” when she died.
But, White still welcomed “lots of doggy visitors” and other “four-legged friends” after Pontiac’s death.
Opinion on zoos
White was also a fervent supporter of zoos – in particular, their conservation and education programs. In fact, she had volunteered with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for more than 40 years as a trustee and a chair.
The actor had helped fund the improvement of animal exhibits for gorillas, elephants, and chimpanzees. In 2011, she released a book about her experiences, called Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo.
“Modern zoos of today are not like the old, old, old zoos,” she told PEOPLE that year. “Lot of people have the impression they don’t like zoos because animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity; they should be in their natural habitat. But what they don’t realize is that the zoos not only exhibit animals, but they work in that natural habitat to save small populations of endangered species. They save many animals from going extinct.”
The ethics of zoos and similar facilities have long divided animal rights advocates. Like White, some stress the importance of zoo conservation programs. Others argue that such facilities exploit animals by using them for human entertainment.
Countless animal sanctuaries and non-profits across the world are in need of support, including in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, South Africa, the UK, and the US, to name a few.
This article was originally published on January 17, 2022. It was last updated on January 28, 2022 to include new information about the amount of money raised.