Betty White had a wild side.
The legendary “Golden Girls” star — who died Friday at age 99 — was a pioneering animal rights activist devoted to saving endangered species and improving conditions at the Los Angeles Zoo.
The beloved actress worked for decades to champion animals in her charity work, along with publishing a book on the subject and starring in the nature-boosting 1971 show “Pet Set.”
“Betty White demonstrated a lifelong commitment to helping animals in need, including dedicated support for local shelters and animal welfare endeavors, fiercely promoting and protecting animal interests in her entertainment projects, and personally adopting many rescued animals,” said Matt Bershadker, president of the ASPCA, which White worked with over the years.
“Betty was a constant and compassionate advocate for vulnerable animals across the country, and will be greatly missed.”
Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association president Tom Jacobson added, “Her work with [the zoo] spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for her enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission.”
After White’s death on Friday, fans took to Twitter to thank her for being a friend, to animals.
“A trailblazer. An original. And a truly kind soul. May she be forever surrounded by four-legged animals in heaven,” one fan tweeted.
Another added, “Everyone loved Betty White for a million different valid reasons, but I’d like to celebrate her decades of activism, advocacy and devotion on behalf of animals and animal welfare, something she learned as a child and made a central part of her life. #RIP”
White — who owned dogs including a Pekingese, a St. Bernard and miniature poodle — had a deep love of all things furry and feathered.
“I’m the luckiest person in the world — my life is divided in absolute half: half animals, half show business,” White told TV Guide in 2009.
“It is so embedded in me,” she said, according to Smithsonian magazine. “Both my mother and father were tremendous animal lovers. They imbued in me the fact that, to me, there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about.”
After White was born in 1922, her mom even joked that her longtime orange tabby cat, Toby, was still top dog.
“My mother always told me that if Toby didn’t approve, I would have to go back,” White quipped to Parade magazine.
In the 1960s, White began working with the Los Angeles Zoo to help improve the then-lackluster conditions of animal enclosures.
“I got involved with the Los Angeles Zoo because I was kind of shocked that Los Angeles had such a poor zoo inside,” she told AARP. “I’ve never been one to stand outside and criticize. I’d rather get inside and see what’s going on, see how I can help.”
She served on the zoo’s board for more than 50 years, paving the way for state-of-the-art chimpanzee, orangutan and gorilla exhibits.
“Many people have a closed mind on zoos. They think no animal should be in captivity, they should all be in the wild in their own habitat. Well, of course, that is a myth,” White told Smithsonian.
In the 1970s, White also worked with the Morris Animal Foundation, which “advances animal health” though top-notch research, according to its website
White eventually served as the group’s president emeritus as it developed groundbreaking animal science such as the feline leukemia vaccine and the Potomac horse fever vaccine.
Over the years, she also worked closely with the Los Angeles ASPCA and the dog guide school The Seeing Eye.
In 2011, White published the book Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo and went on to host TV animal-centric TV specials such as the “Hero Dog Awards,” “Big Cat Week” and “Betty White Goes Wild.”