#BettyWhiteChallenge brings boost in donations to London, Ont. humane society

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16, 2012: Actress Betty White (R) and Uggie the dog attends 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

A viral online challenge to support local animal rescue organizations in honour of the late TV icon Betty White has resulted in an influx of donations to the Humane Society of London and Middlesex (HSLM), officials with the organization said on Monday, which would have been White’s 100th birthday.

In addition to being known as the “First Lady of Television” for her pioneering and multi-decade career in the medium, White, who died on Dec. 31 at the age of 99, was also known for her longtime advocacy for animals and support of animal welfare organizations.

As a way to honour White’s life and her love of animals, fans of the entertainment legend are being asked to donate $5 or more to their local animal shelter or rescue organization on Monday as part of the grassroots #BettyWhiteChallenge.

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Already, animal welfare groups across Canada and the U.S., including HSLM and Salthaven Wildlife, have seen an uptick in donations over the last two weeks as a result of the challenge.

“The fund development team … did have a quick meeting this morning, and a noticeable amount of dollars are starting to roll in,” said Steve Ryall, HSLM’s executive director, on Monday. The organization received its first campaign-related donation just after New Year’s and received several more in the weeks afterward.

The humane society has set up a dedicated page that allows residents to explicitly state that their contribution is tied to the online challenge and is being done in White’s name.

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“We’re really excited about it and honoured to be able to be participating in this, and are really looking forward to those results to help us get through this tough January.”

Click to play video: 'Raising money for animals in need through the Betty White Challenge'
Raising money for animals in need through the Betty White Challenge

The boost in donations couldn’t come at a better time given January is generally light in pet adoptions and financial contributions, an unfortunate fact given that the shelter relies entirely on individual and corporate donations to stay in operation.

“It’s always been a struggle for us to try to stay ahead of the bills in the month of January,” said Ryall, noting the shelter does not receive any funding from the government, and services London, Middlesex, Elgin, and Oxford.

“That money will go towards … sheltering animals and then also advocacy work that we do and education that we do in the community, so it definitely goes to good use.”

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For the last two to three years, Ryall says the humane society has consistently sheltered between 200 and 250 animals daily, meaning the facility is regularly at or near capacity.

Last summer, in the face of an uptick in pet surrenders, the shelter held a ‘clear the cages’ event to encourage locals to adopt a cat, dog, or other small animal.

“Right now I’ve never seen more animals available for adoption on our website in the three years that I’ve been here, so there’s lots of opportunity for people to find that new family member on our website.”

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South of the border, several animal welfare organizations have seen an increase in donations due to the #BettyWhiteChallenge, including American Humane, with which White was involved for more than 60 years.

During her involvement with the organization, White made fundraising appeals and served on its board and as a presenter and judge on its televised show featuring “hero” dogs.

During tapings of her show The Pet Set in the early 1970s, dedicated to her celebrity friends and their pets, White would have American Humane representatives on set to ensure that animals were safe, said Robin Ganzert, who leads the organization.

In 2012, the nonprofit honoured her with its highest award, the National Humanitarian Medal.

White also served as a trustee for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for nearly four decades, and supported the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing veterinary medicine and research.

She was also awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal in 2017 for her “commitment to wildlife and efforts to create a sustainable planet.”

— with files from Glenn Gamboa and Haleluya Hadero of The Associated Press and Michelle Butterfield of Global News

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