Betty White had a wild side.
The legendary “Golden Girls” star – who died on Friday aged 99 – was a pioneering animal rights activist dedicated to saving endangered species and improving conditions at the Los Angeles Zoo.
The beloved actress has worked for decades to advocate for animals in her charitable work, while also publishing a book on the subject and starring on the 1971 show “Pet Set.”
“Betty White has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to helping animals in need, including dedicated support to local shelters and animal welfare efforts, fiercely promoting and protecting the interests of animals in her entertainment endeavors and personally adopting many rescued animals, ”said Matt Bershadker, president of ASPCA, with whom White has worked over the years.
“Betty was a steadfast and compassionate advocate for vulnerable animals across the country, and she will be sorely missed. “
Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association President Tom Jacobson added, “His work with [the zoo] spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for his enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission.
Following White’s death on Friday, fans took to Twitter to thank her for being an animal lover.
” A pioneer. An original. And a really kind soul. May she be forever surrounded by four-legged animals in the sky ”, one fan tweeted.
Another added: “Everyone loved Betty White for a million different valid reasons, but I would like to celebrate her decades of activism, advocacy and dedication to animals and animal welfare, something that she learned when she was a child and that she has been an integral part of her life.
White – who owned dogs, including a Pekingese, a St. Bernard, and a miniature poodle – had a deep love for all things furs and feathers.
“I’m the luckiest person in the world – my life is split into two parts: half animal, half show business,” White told TV Guide in 2009.
“It’s so ingrained in me,” she said, according to Smithsonian magazine. “My mom and dad were both big animal lovers. They imbued me with the fact that for me there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to know more about.
After White was born in 1922, her mother even joked that her longtime orange tabby cat, Toby, was still the best dog.
“My mom always told me if Toby didn’t approve, I should go back,” White joked to Parade magazine.
In the 1960s, White began working with the Los Angeles Zoo to help improve the then drab conditions in animal enclosures.
“I got involved with the Los Angeles Zoo because I was a little shocked that Los Angeles had such a poor zoo inside,” she told AARP. “I’ve never been the type to stand outside and criticize. I’d rather come in and see what’s going on, see how I can help.
She served on the zoo’s board of directors for over 50 years, paving the way for state-of-the-art exhibits on chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas.
“A lot of people are closed-minded about zoos. They think no animal should be in captivity, they should all be in the wild in their own habitat. Well, of course that’s a myth. White told the Smithsonian.
In the 1970s, White also worked with the Morris Animal Foundation, which “advances animal health” through first-rate research, according to its website.
White was ultimately chairman emeritus of the group as he developed groundbreaking animal sciences such as the Feline Leukemia Vaccine and the Potomac Equine Fever Vaccine.
Over the years, she has also worked closely with the Los Angeles ASPCA and The Seeing Eye Guide Dog School.
In 2011, White published the book Betty and her friends: my life at the zoo and went on to host animal-centric TV specials, such as the “Hero Dog Awards”, “Big Cat Week” and “Betty White Goes Wild”.