FLAGLER HUMANE SOCIETY Betty White left legacy of advocating for animals

Betty White was famous for caring for all animals.
Betty White was famous for caring for all animals.

“You can always tell about somebody by the way they put their hands on an animal.” Betty White

Last week the world lost a one-of-a-kind animal advocate who improved animal lives worldwide.

Betty joked that her mother told her that if Toby, their orange tabby cat, hadn’t approved of her as a baby, she would have had to go back. Betty’s parents rescued animals. So Betty learned to help animals from an early age.

Her record of accomplishments and awards as they relate to animals is far too long to list, however, here’s a few highlights.

Betty held many positions with the Morris Animal Foundation, including president. She was proud of their mission to advance animal health work. Betty was with the Morris Animal Foundation when they assisted in the development of the feline leukemia and parvovirus vaccines.

In the 1990s, she suggested pain management research and funded the first studies. Today, if a veterinarian performs surgery, like spay or neuter, without using pain management, they could face a malpractice charge. Betty White was a large part of that revolutionary change in veterinary medicine.

In 2010, a gift from Betty was the inception of a fund that supports animals after ecological spills and other disasters. The fund, now named the Betty White Wildlife Fund, continues to address wildlife disasters. In 2020, they provided $1 million to rescue and rehab animals after Australia’s wildfires.

Betty served on the board at the nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Zoo. The zoo is renowned for quality habitats and animal enrichment. White is a big reason for that. As a result, in 2013, Betty was made an “honorary zookeeper.”

Betty has said, “Zoos of today are not like the old zoos. People may not like zoos because animals shouldn't be kept in captivity. Zoos not only exhibit animals, but they work to save endangered species. They save many animals from going extinct."

She was also a Recipient of the Jane Goodall Institute Global Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Betty was more than a supporter of animals. She was also an advocate for the right of people with disabilities who use guide dogs to have equal access to restaurants, hotels and transportation.

Betty was a friend to The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in America. She often gave a popular bidding item for their annual fundraising auction: dinner with Betty White herself.

Betty supported Guide Dogs for the Blind, an international guide dog school. In 2005 she adopted Pontiac, a golden retriever who didn’t have the focus to be a guide dog because he wanted to greet everybody. Christine Benninger, of Guide Dogs for the Blind, said, “Golden retrievers love people and Betty White’s the human version of the golden retriever -- she genuinely loves people.”

Betty’s been involved with American Humane, which works to ensure the safety of animal actors in movies, TV shows and commercials. For several years Betty presented at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards. American Humane once honored Betty White with the National Humanitarian Medal and the Legacy Award.

While on the board for The Gorilla Foundation, Betty even got to meet and befriend Koko, the late gorilla famous for understanding language and having pet cats. Before the introduction, the gorilla developed an appreciation for the star's work, often watching Golden Girls and films that featured Betty White. During their first meeting, the gorilla invited Betty into her living area.

She also authored the book Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, the proceeds benefited zoos.

So, have you heard about the #BettyWhiteChallenge? On Betty White’s 100th birthday, Jan. 17, Betty’s fans ask that other fans and animal lovers donate $5 to their favorite animal protection organization in Betty’s honor. What a well-deserved tribute to this talented icon who spent her life making us laugh and making a difference. I think if the animals could talk, they would say to Betty White, “Thank you for being a friend.”

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: FHS column: Betty White left legacy of advocating for animals