'A nice surprise': Suburban animal shelters get funding boost from #BettyWhiteChallenge
A lifelong lover of animals, Betty White is still making an impact, even after her death on Dec. 31.
The #BettyWhiteChallenge, an online campaign widely shared on Twitter and Facebook in recent days, urged people to donate $5 to a local animal rescue or shelter in honor of White's 100th birthday, which she would have celebrated Monday.
Local shelters said they're seeing the power of her reach and love for pets.
By Tuesday afternoon, Animal House Shelter received more than $21,000 in donations because of the challenge.
"It's amazing," said Tabatha Browy of the Huntley-based rescue. "We're just overwhelmed by everybody's generosity."
On Monday, The Buddy Foundation in Arlington Heights received more than $2,000 in walk-in donations. The group also saw more than $4,200 pledged to its Facebook fundraiser.
"We've been getting contacted by so many people regarding donations in Betty's name," said Carmela Lowth, of The Buddy Foundation. "She had such a following of people who loved her."
In Downers Grove, the West Suburban Humane Society has received nearly $18,000 in donations in White's name since her death, including more than 200 individual donations on Monday as part of the challenge.
"We don't typically see this," said Christina Morrison, director of development for the society. "People make tribute donations all the time, but it's for people that they know. We've never seen this before where people are actually giving us money in a celebrity's name."
But Morrison can see why, since many people felt like they knew Betty White through her long TV career. Since 1949, White repeatedly was beamed into people's living rooms via TV talk shows, game shows and hit sitcoms such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls."
She even had a show in the '70s called "The Pet Set," dedicated to her celebrity friends and their pets.
The local organizations agreed that the money couldn't have come at a better time, with fundraising more difficult because of the pandemic.
The 28-year-old Buddy Foundation, which is run entirely by volunteers and relies on donations to care for the more than 20 dogs and about 130 cats and kittens, had to cancel its biggest fundraiser each of the last two years.
"People have been very kind to us," founder Jan Bierman said of the last couple of days. "This has been a nice surprise."
Browy said many of the animals being cared for at Animal House Shelter have incurred sizable medical bills recently. The shelter, which never turns away an animal because of medical issues, was recently hit with a $4,500 bill for emergency surgery for Pirate, a 4-month-old kitten found injured and cold in Algonquin after being hit by a car.
The group also is trying to raise money for an expansion that would double the number of animals the shelter could house.
"Every dollar we get gets us one step closer to being able to save more animals," Browy said.
West Suburban Humane Society plans to install a memorial walk brick in honor of Betty White. It was part of a $500 social media fundraising challenge posted to their Facebook page. Morrison said the memorial brick appeal surpassed the original goal 12 times.
Morrison said she is glad that White's fans found such a helpful way to assist agencies assisting animals in what is typically a lean time for donations.
"(The Betty White Challenge) is going to help us get through the winter by paying our heating bills, feeding all the dogs and the cats we have and paying our vet bills," Morrison said. "We are just so appreciative to have this support right now."