Betty White remembered as a “tireless champion of animals”

Betty White has died in Los Angeles at the age of 99.
Betty White has died in Los Angeles at the age of 99. © Morris Animal Foundation

Popular US actress Betty White, who died on December 31, 2021, at the age of 99, is being remembered for the impact she had on the lives of animals – as well as for having the record for the longest stint as a female entertainer.

White, who would have been 100 years old on January 17, sponsored more than 30 animal health studies to improve the health of cats, dogs, horses and multiple species of wildlife, including California sea otters and mountain gorillas.

White’s interest in animal welfare began in the early 1970s while she was producing and hosting the syndicated series The Pet Set, which spotlighted celebrities and their pets.

White first appeared on radio shows and made her first on-screen appearance in 1939, later followed by TV series including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Saturday Night Live, Hot in Cleveland, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Golden Girls. She was also the author of several books. A docudrama Betty White: 100 Years Young – A Birthday Celebration is to be released on January 17.

As well as being one of the world’s most beloved performers, White devoted her life to improving the lives of animals. She was part of the Morris Animal Foundation family for more than 50 years, supporting its mission to advance the health of animals around the world. The foundation described White as “a tireless champion of animals”.

White also worked with the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, the African Wildlife Foundation, and Actors and Others for Animals.

Morris Animal Foundation President/CEO Tiffany Grunert said it was “hard to imagine a world without Betty in it”.

“All of us at the Foundation are mourning the loss of this amazing woman. We will miss her wit, her intelligence and, most of all, her love of animals and commitment to advancing their health. She was a true inspiration to our staff, her fellow trustees and all of our supporters.”

White served as a Trustee of the foundation from 1971 to 2013, as Canine Division Vice-President from 1973 to 1982 and as Board President from 1982 to 85. She hosted events on behalf of the foundation, including the Gorillas in the Mist motion picture premiere.

White remained committed to helping animals throughout her life. One of her last acts of philanthropy for Morris Animal Foundation was to establish the Betty White Wildlife Fund, largely in response to the catastrophic effects of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill on marine life. Since her’s initial gift, others have contributed to and grown the fund and it has been used as a first line of defense in critical wildlife emergencies.

She took an active part in scientific discussions to ensure the foundation continued to move forward in its mission to improve the lives of animals.

Morris Animal Foundation Board Trustee Emeritus Bette Morris, wife of the late Dr Mark Morris Jr, whose father, veterinarian Mark L. Morris Sr, started the foundation in 1948, said that White often said that the organisation’s scientific advisory boards were the engines that drove Morris Animal Foundation.

“If they are the engines, then she certainly was our organization’s heart,“ Morris said.

Long-time friend and former Executive Director of the foundation, Dr Rob Hilsenroth said: “Betty always put the animals first”.

“In the 1990s, she suggested pain management should be an area of future research and funded the first few studies.

“Today, if a veterinarian performs an elective surgery, like a spay or neuter without using pain management, she/he could face a malpractice charge. You can thank Betty White for that revolutionary change in the way we practice all phases of veterinary medicine today.”

The Los Angeles Zoo also paid tribute to White, whose loss “leaves a great hole in our hearts”. Her work with the zoo began in 1966 when it opened, and she joined its Board of Trustees in 1974.

Denise M. Verret, CEO and director of the Los Angeles Zoo, said White was a long-time champion and friend of the L.A. Zoo, “who advocated for us and helped to amplify the work we are doing to conserve wildlife”.

“She cared deeply for all living creatures – including us. Her loss leaves a great hole in our hearts. The L.A. Zoo cannot thank Betty enough for her decades of support, and we share in this grief with all of you. There truly will never be another person like her.”

In 2006, White was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the City of Los Angeles’ “Ambassador to the Animals” for her lifelong work for animal welfare. And in 2013, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made her an honorary zookeeper.

White married WW2 pilot Dick Barker after the war in 1945, but divorced within a year. In 1947 she married Lane Allen, a Hollywood talent agent. Her third and final marriage was in 1963, to television personality Allen Ludden, who died in 1981.

Betty Marion White Ludden (January 17, 1922 – December 31, 2021) is survived by three step-children.

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