Betty White: Fans seek to honor late animal lover with donations to shelters, rescues

Betty White, a legendary TV actress who was known for her iconic roles in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls," also had a passion off-screen: animals.

White, who died Dec. 31 at age 99, was a lifelong animal lover who worked tirelessly to raise money for various organizations and even served as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for nearly 40 years. She supported many causes, such as the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to advance veterinary medicine and research.

Following news of White’s death just weeks before what would have been her 100th birthday on Jan. 17, many began sharing a #BettyWhiteChallenge on social media. The challenge asks fans to pick a local rescue or animal shelter and donate $5 in White’s name. 

The cultural icon said her parents, who were "tremendous animal lovers," instilled in her a kinship toward all creatures from a young age. 

"They imbued in me the fact that, to me, there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about," White told Smithsonian Magazine in 2012.

The Friars Club Salute To Betty White

FILE - Actress Betty White and Uggie the dog attend The Friars Club Salute To Betty White at Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on May 16, 2012, in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

Before pursuing a lengthy career in Hollywood, White even aspired to become a forest ranger — but at the time women were not allowed in the profession. The U.S. Forest Service later made her an honorary ranger in 2010.

In 1970-1971, she wrote, produced and hosted a syndicated TV show, "The Pet Set," to which celebrities brought their dogs and cats. She wrote a 1983 book titled "Betty White’s Pet Love: How Pets Take Care of Us," and, in 2011, published "Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo," described as "a love letter" to zoos, dedicated workers and the animals who live in them. 

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 few people 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.

How to support animal causes in honor of Betty White

American Humane, dedicated to the safety, welfare and well-being of animals, was an organization White remained involved with for more than 60 years. Those who would like to donate can do so here.

Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, of which White served as a longtime trustee, aims to financially support animal welfare, animal species conservation, community outreach programs and more. Those interested can donate here.

Guide Dogs for the Blind enlisted White as one of its spokespeople, who also served as "a friend and dedicated supporter" of the nonprofit. The organization connects people and guide dogs, provides free personalized training, assistance for veterinary care if needed and more. White even adopted a golden retriever named Pontiac that she received from the organization. Click here to make a donation.

The Morris Animal Foundation said White "devoted her life to improving the lives of animals."

"If you’d like to honor her legacy, consider making a gift to our wildlife health program today," a message on the foundation’s website reads, with a link to donate

As noted by many on social media, fans of White can also make a donation in her name to a local animal shelter or animal rescue in their area. 

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.