January 17 was supposed to be a magical day for America’s favorite senior citizen, as legendary actress Betty White was to celebrate her 100th birthday. But the beloved star died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Brentwood, California on New Year’s Eve.
So fans of “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” star gather on January 17 to honor Betty White by supporting one of her biggest passions: animal welfare.
White has long been candid about animal rights, and collaborated with several organizations to help animals be adopted or fight for human rights. Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, was one of the proponents of collaborating with White during her long crusade to help animals.
For the past 30 years, Bernstein has worked with White to advocate for animal welfare. But White’s work with animals began long before he met Bernstein.
“Betty White was the right item,” Bernstein told USA TODAY. “She did not come up with animal welfare issues as it became more trendy to do so. That’s how she was from, well, she would say from birth.”
The lifelong dedication to animal welfare resulted in White receiving the National Humanitarian Medal from American Humane, the first national humanitarian organization founded in the United States. She also received the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s James Smithson Bicentennial Medal in 2017. At the time, she said animals were “what I love most in the world.”
It was no secret, White adored every single animal she met. Bernstein mentioned that there were a few times White would see a dog and give them a kiss, and she would take every opportunity she could to take a picture with any animal. As sweet as she was with animals, she was also serious about doing everything she could for them.
Tom Dyer, former bird watcher at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans, said in a Twitter thread that someone paid for 19 penguins and two sea otters from the aquarium to be flown to California after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The donor wanted to remain anonymous, but years later he found out that it was White who paid for it.
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When spcaLA decided to make a live telethon in 2000, the organization decided that they should have a host. So Bernstein called White and asked if she would be interested in the job.
“She said, ‘What I think, sweetie, is that if you had done this without asking me to host, it would be over. We would be done,'” Bernstein said.
The phone call was a success, but she added that when they planned to do it again the following year, White “sniffed about it” and called Bernstein and asked if they had fired her. The same thing happened again the following year. Once, White even auctioned himself off for a dinner for the organization.
It was these memories that showed how passionate the deceased star was for animals. She did not want people to focus only on certain aspects of animals, her goal was simple: she wanted every animal healthy, happy and loved.
“If you could get people to do that, then she was for you,” Bernstein said.
How to take #BettyWhiteChallenge
When White died, people across social media shared their shock and grief.
Bernstein said many people “felt cheated” they could not celebrate with White, but instead found another way to celebrate and honor her memory.
Since the first week of 2022, #BettyWhiteChallenge has become a popular hashtag on social media. The challenge is simple: donate to any local or national animal boarding school, rescue crew or agency in White’s name until or on January 17th on what would have been her 100th birthday.
Numerous shelters across the country, such as the Tri-County Humane Society in Minnesota, have offered ways to donate to White’s memorial. Others like the Faithful Friends Animal Society in Delaware said they would match any donation.
Bernstein said the donations are a great way to honor White, adding that it is the right birthday party for her as it will go to a cause she loved all her life.
But what would White have to say about the trend?
“She’s probably up there laughing,” Bernstein said. “She probably wished she had thought of that.”
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @ jordan_mendoza5.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: #BettyWhiteChallenge: How fans honor the legendary star