How Betty White shaped animal advocacy in Los Angeles: 'We will miss our friend for life'

"She was inspired to lend her celebrity to provide a voice for animals and brought much attention to the cause of animal welfare."
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The death of Betty White has left a gaping hole in Hollywood and her impact on the city of Los Angeles goes beyond her TV and movie career.



White was a well-known animal lover and worked closely with several L.A. animal organizations. She was involved with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) since the 1940s.

Betty White at spcaLA Pet Adoption Center on Jefferson Boulevard.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA)



"Betty and I would joke that she would outlive us all," said Madeline Bernstein, the spcaLA president, in a statement released on Friday. "She was inspired to lend her celebrity to provide a voice for animals, and brought much attention to the cause of animal welfare. We will miss our Friend for Life."

Betty White and spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA)



Bernstein met White in the 90s when she stepped into her role as spcaLA president. White participated in several spcaLA telethons raising money to expand different programs and services. She even helped raise money to build the spcaLA PD Pitchford Companion Animal Village & Education Center in Long Beach.

Betty White and spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA)



Plus, White did plenty of work for the L.A. Zoo.



"Betty White Ludden's legacy will have a lasting impact on all of us here at the Los Angeles Zoo," said Denise Verret, the CEO and director of the L.A. Zoo. "She 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."

White's work for the zoo spans more than five decades. Her involvement began with the zoo's opening in 1966.

Betty White with actor Joe Campanella at the L.A. Zoo.

Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association



She officially joined Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's Board of Trustees in 1974.

One of her first major projects was writing, producing, and starring in a TV special called Backstage at the Zoo.

White recruited her celebrity friends - like Mary Tyler Moore, Jimmy Stewart, Greg Morris, Amanda Blake, and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley to appear in the 90-minute special, which aired in July 1974 on KTTV.

"This was revolutionary at the time and brought the Los Angeles Zoo into the homes of thousands of Angelenos to shine a spotlight on the zoo's world-class animal care team and its work behind-the-scenes caring for the animals," read a statement issued by the zoo.

White served on GLAZA's board continuously since 1974.



She took a break in 1997 to become a member of the Board of Zoo Commissioners, a role she served in for eight years. She became chair of the GLAZA board in 2010.

In 2006, Betty was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as L.A.'s "Ambassador to the Animals."

Seven years later, the L.A. chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made her an honorary zookeeper.

White also wrote a book called "Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo" - all the proceeds went straight to GLAZA and the zoo.

Not to mention, some of the zoo's animals were named with White's help!
Elka the orangutan was named after White's character in the hit TV series "Hot in Cleveland."

Her devotion to pets was such that she declined a plum role in the hit 1997 movie "As Good As It Gets." She objected to a scene in which Jack Nicholson drops a small dog down a laundry chute.

In her 2011 book "If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)," White explained the origins of her love for dogs.

During the Depression, her dad made radios to sell to make extra money. But since no one had money to buy the radios, he willingly traded them for dogs, which, housed in kennels in the backyard, at times numbered as many as 15 and made White's happy childhood even happier.

Are there any critters she doesn't like?

"No," White told the AP in 2011. "Anything with a leg on each corner."

Then what about snakes?

"Ohhh, I LOVE snakes!"

Betty White holding a python at the L.A. Zoo.

Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association



And when asked how she had managed to be universally beloved by humans throughout her life, not just by animals, she summed up with a dimpled smile, "I just make it my business to get along with people so I can have fun. It's that simple."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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