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Remembering Betty White: Actress, animal advocate, and Carmel local

In 2002, Betty White released a great horned owl as part of SPCA Monterey County's "Wild Celebration."
SPCA Monterey County
In 2002, Betty White released a great horned owl as part of SPCA Monterey County's "Wild Celebration."

Betty White was famous for her trailblazing career in television. She made us laugh in sitcoms like The Golden Girls. But it’s her off-screen life that leaves a lasting impression locally.

Flowers left in front of Betty White's Carmel home.
Erika Mahoney
Flowers left in front of Betty White's Carmel home.

White had a home in Carmel. She purchased the oceanfront property in 1978 with the love of her life, the late Allen Ludden. Although Ludden passed away shortly after, White continued to visit Carmel from Los Angeles and became part of the Monterey Bay community.

White adored animals. Her passion flourished when she would spend weeks with her parents in the High Sierra, enjoying the wildlife. White served as trustee and board president for the Morris Animal Foundation. There, she funded research for pain management for animals.

“Today, if a veterinarian performs an elective surgery, like a spay or neuter without using pain management, she/he could face a malpractice charge,” said Dr. Rob Hilsenroth, former Morris Animal Foundation Executive Director. “You can thank Betty White for that revolutionary change in the way we practice all phases of veterinary medicine today.”

White was also involved with the Los Angeles Zoo, and locally, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and SPCA Monterey County. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney interviewed Julie Packard, executive director of the Aquarium, and Beth Brookhouser, vice president of marketing and communications of SPCA Monterey County, about White’s legacy.

Julie Packard, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I'm Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and we all at the Aquarium are so sad to lose our dear friend Betty White. People might wonder … what was Betty White's connection with Monterey Bay Aquarium? It’s a wonderful and long, long relationship that we had with her.

She became a member, actually, in the late 80s. You know, we opened in 1984 and she knew about us and signed up as a member. She developed a really close relationship with a number of our team members, especially the ones working with sea otters. We've done a lot of work for many decades on rescuing and caring for orphaned sea otter pups and returning them to the wild. So Betty became a donor to that program very early on.

Betty White with a penguin at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Betty White with a penguin at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2006.

She was so engaged in the field research when she would come visit. And of course, you know, she wanted to see the animals. Really, this one penguin in particular, Ray, who is very acclimated to people, seemed to just really get that Betty … Betty was a big animal hugger. I remember, I remember that story in particular. I thought that was so interesting. She really, she really got animals. [00:05:03][23.7]

We're so happy and privileged to be able to say we could call her a friend. And I feel really glad that we were able to give her some joy during her time that she spent at the Aquarium with us. 

Beth Brookhouser, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at SPCA Monterey County

Hi, I'm Beth Brookhouser with SPCA Monterey County. I was a huge fan of Betty White growing up and continue to be a big fan of her today.

Betty White was extremely supportive of SPCA Monterey County, like she was for many organizations nationwide. She opened our wildlife center in 1982. She was here for the ribbon cutting. That wildlife center helps thousands of injured and orphaned wild animals every year. 

It seems like there's always more to learn about what Betty White did for the community. I'm hearing new stories all the time. She donated money to release a great horned owl at one of our events. And when she got up on the platform to release the owl, she said, “my accountant is going to kill me, but I'm going to do it anyway.” And it was so heartwarming and wonderful. Just to see the look in her eye when she watched that owl take its first flight into freedom meant so much to everybody. 

White signed this photograph for the SPCA Monterey County team.
SPCA Monterey County
White signed this photograph for the SPCA Monterey County team.

Betty White really touched our community here and everywhere. She exudes kindness and compassion along with an amazing sense of humor, of course. But her kindness is going to live on for a long time here in Monterey County. She's going to be deeply missed. 

Betty White’s birthday is January 17. A challenge sweeping social media (#BettyWhiteChallenge) encourages people to donate $5 to their local rescue or animal shelter in Betty White’s name to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.