BETTY WHITE WINDFALL: FANS DONATE THOUSANDS TO KEYS ANIMAL NONPROFITS

The Jolly Roger RV Resort raised $830 in under three hours. The fundraiser organizers stopped by the FKSPCA Marathon campus to deliver a check to staff with a cardboard Betty White as a witness. JOLLY ROGER RV RESORT/Contributed

In the Florida Keys, animal nonprofits were thrilled to receive thousands of dollars of donations on Jan. 17 due to the “Betty White Challenge,” a nationwide trend.

White, star of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Golden Girls,” was loved by millions. Her career experienced an unexpected renaissance in 2010 at age 88, due to a Facebook campaign that successfully nabbed her a Saturday Night Live hosting gig. It seemed as though she was going to live forever. Indeed, magazines like People printed special editions celebrating her 100th birthday, which was to be on Jan. 17 … but she passed at age 99, just a few days before the 17th.

White was also a tireless advocate for animals.

According to the Washington Post, “White was an avowed animal lover, an advocate for guide dogs, a long-standing board member for the L.A. Zoo, and a recipient of American Humane’s highest honor, the National Humanitarian Medal and the Legacy Award.”

So White’s fans and animal lovers across the country created the “Betty White Challenge,” encouraging people to donate to animal nonprofits of their choice on what would have been her hundredth birthday, January 17.

To say that this fundraiser was a nationwide success is to put it lightly.

A Wall Street Journal headline read, “Betty White Challenge Sees Animal-Rescue Groups Flooded With Donations.”

“We saw an incredible turnout for the Betty White Challenge, far beyond our expectations,” said Tiffany Dunsmore, the development director of the Florida Keys SPCA, which has branches in Key West and Marathon. “We received over $10,000, which was way, way crazy for us.”

Dunsmore said the money will go directly into essential needs such as vaccinations and other medical care for homeless pets. She said a lot of the donations came online, but two organizations — Marathon’s Jolly Roger RV Resort and Bar 22&Co. in Key West — both held fundraisers for the FKSPCA.

Peggy Coontz, animal care director for the Key West Wildlife Center, also saw more donations than usual come in online and via telephone.

“The funds will go directly for supplies for the animals. Food is the most important purchase that we would make, specialty items, such as fish for pelicans and live insects for wild birds,” Coontz said. “It was quite lovely, and everyone hopes it will become an annual tribute to Betty White.”

Marathon’s Turtle Hospital posted on Facebook: “A huge thank you to everyone that is donating to the Turtle Hospital today in memory of the late, great Betty White!”  

Angela Boehm, president of the Upper Keys Humane Society in Key Largo, said the nonprofit received $2,800 in donations on her birthday.

“We’re going to buy something in her honor,” she said. “Maybe a dog run or a surgical table.”

Suzi Youngberg, rescue coordinator for Key Largo’s MarrVelous Pet Rescues, said the organization received $4,400 on Jan. 17. The funds will go toward vet expenses, such as for spay and neuter and vaccinations.

Mary Stella is the director of media and marketing for Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center. On Jan. 17, about a dozen or more people spontaneously donated to the center in White’s name.

“What a tribute,” said Stella. “We and our colleagues at other dolphin facilities and zoological institutions really appreciated Betty. She believed in the work we do, and the way we educate the public about the animals in our care. While we were never fortunate to have her visit us, she visited our colleagues, like Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld. She will be missed. Even in her passing, she was benefitting the animals she cared so much about.”

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.