Wow! The Betty White Challenge Raises More Than $12 Million in Donations to Celebrate Her Devotion to Animals

Betty White holding dog
Betty White holding dog

E. Charbonneau / Getty

When beloved animal advocate and actress Betty White passed away on December 31, 2021—a mere 18 days before her 100th birthday—the world's light dimmed just a little bit. A consummate award-winning entertainer and comedian for more than eight decades, White's fans included grandparents who watched her before her time on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls to millennials who swarmed social media to push for her to host Saturday Night Live and "protect her from 2016". It's the one thing we could all agree on: Betty White was a national treasure.

To honor her memory, the internet came together in support of a movement called The Betty White Challenge. The goal was for participants to donate at least $5 to an animal shelter or rescue in her name on her birthday, January 17.

Oh, It Was So Much More Than $5!

Animal lovers everywhere leveraged social media platforms or called their local shelter, rescue, or animal welfare organization to donate. Celebrities such as Trisha Yearwood rallied fans together, too. In fact, Yearwood's livestream raised nearly $25,000 in just 15 minutes! Dozens of charities received more than $30,000 in tribute—often more support than they'd garner in a year.

RELATED: Here Are 10 'Awe-Struck' Animal Charities That Received Over $30K in Donations from the Betty White Challenge

The Calgary Humane Society in Canada was one major international success story.

On the Sunday after the Betty White Challenge, Variety reported that on Facebook and Instagram alone, viral fundraising totaled $12.7 million. As of yet, there's not a final tally of the movement's overall financial impact.

Why was everyone so moved to participate? Probably because White was a beloved celebrity for more than seven decades, and in all that time, she never tired of contributing resources to support numerous animal welfare efforts. That dedication inspired millions.

More Than a Comedian, Betty White's Animal Advocacy Left a Lasting Legacy

White's passion for animal welfare paralleled her celebrity, a platform she willingly hoisted for the benefit of all creatures great and small. Fascinated with them since she was a child, her personal pets are simply too numerous to mention. As she wrote in her 2011 book, Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, "My preoccupation with animals is an open secret."

In 1966, the animal lover helped launch the opening of the Los Angeles Zoo, and since 1974, continuously served on the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) board of trustees—dedication that led to her becoming an honorary zookeeper in 2013. She donated all earnings from her Betty & Friends book to GLAZA and the zoo (as well a large portion of the proceeds of a hilarious music video from 2011.)

White was also a supporter of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and in 2014, the entrance to its Heart of Africa exhibit was named Betty White Way.

In 1971, White created and hosted a syndicated program called "The Pet Set," which was released to DVD and streaming services last year to commemorate her 99th birthday. The show features White alongside other famous celebs as they join her for fun—and often surprising!—interactions with everything from scampering puppies to hungry baby elephants.

White was an avid animal advocate for more than 40 years through her work with Denver's Morris Animal Foundation. The star used her influence to propel advances in animal health—ones that most certainly still have an effect on our pets' lives to this day. Here's a little-known fact: it was through her suggestion and funding that animal pain management became a primary area of study in the 1990s. "​​Today, if a veterinarian performs an elective surgery, like a spay or neuter, without using pain management, she/he could face a malpractice charge. You can thank Betty White for that revolutionary change in the way we practice all phases of veterinary medicine today," the foundation notes.

Additionally, White sponsored more than 30 other studies, not only for dogs, cats, and horses, but also mountain gorillas, California sea otters, and other wild animals. One of her final acts of philanthropy for the Morris Animal Foundation was creating the Betty White Wildlife Fund, which offers monetary aid to wildlife researchers in the wake of natural disasters like wildfires. Most recently, the fund contributed $1 million to Australian animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations after the catastrophic wildfires that swept the nation in 2020.

RELATED: Meet the Resilient California Wildfire Puppy Winning Over the Heart of His Rescuer

That's not all. White used her star power to enable people to have better assistance with guide dogs, including with the nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind. She also co-authored two books on the subject with entertainer Tom Sullivan, and even adopted Sullivan's glorious golden retriever, Dinah. White was deeply involved with the oldest guide dog school in the U.S., The Seeing Eye, offering a special prize for the top fundraiser each year: a private dinner with the animal-loving celebrity herself. A partner with American Humane for more than seven decades, White always presented the guide dog winner of the organization's Hero Awards.

Whenever the cameras were on, White shared her joy of animals with audiences around the world. In 2014, she appeared on Queen Latifa's talk show, where she delights in the antics of a Siberian lynx and a spider monkey. Watch closely, and you'll see White's clever comedic timing as she pulls tissue from inside her blouse for a quick cleanup!

Although often referred to as "The First Lady of Television," White didn't always need a spotlight to do important work. In the days since her passing, many stories have surfaced of her anonymous contributions to provide animal care. One notable effort occurred in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, when White privately paid for the safe relocation of penguins and otters from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.

White had a supreme lifetime to nurture animal welfare efforts. Now it's our turn to continue her good work and uphold an incredible legacy.

Thank you, Betty, for being a friend every animal deserves. We all hope to radiate more of your golden light. Fingers crossed the trend of the #BettyWhiteChallenge on January 17th becomes another national pet holiday we can celebrate each year in her honor.