HIBBING — Thanks to Betty White, little Flower, a 4-month-old puppy who arrived at the Range Regional Animal Rescue as a stray, limping from hip and limb issues, will have the chance to receive the surgery she needs to thrive.
Critters like Flower at the Hibbing-based shelter and at similar rescues across the country and beyond are benefitting from the millions of dollars donated during the Jan. 17 #BetttyWhiteChallenge, a viral fundraising effort to honor the legacy of Betty White, a lifelong animal lover and animal welfare advocate.
Iron Range animal shelters collected many thousands of dollars during the challenge and continue to take in donations to commemorate the actress, who died Dec. 31, just weeks short of what would have been her 100th birthday on Jan. 17. The online campaign encouraged people to donate $5 or more to a local animal rescue organization in White's name.
According to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, fundraising efforts across the social media platforms netted $12.7 million, with more than 390,000 people contributing to the #BettyWhiteChallenge.
But the local celebration of Betty White — whose career in television and film spanned more than 60 years and included her roles on “The Golden Girls,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Hot in Cleveland” — is not over yet.
Pets and their people will have the chance for a photo shoot with Betty White on Saturday — or, at least, with a life-sized, cardboard cutout of the famed entertainer.
Range Regional Animal Rescue (RRAR), along with Mirabella Realty, and Fairway Mortgage, all of Hibbing, will host a Betty White Birthday Bash and Picture Day from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Mirabella Realty parking lot, 2832 First Ave.
Professional photographs will be taken by Arynn Jacy Photography.
There will be hot cocoa, chances to win prizes and and awards for the cutest, smallest, fattest and best-dressed pets, said Julie Colbert, RRAR manager.
“It will be a fun day,” Colbert said. Some RRAR animals awaiting adoption may make appearances, she added.
Attendees can also purchase wristbands for the annual Mirabella Realty and Fairway Mortgage Treasure Hunt, which has a $1,000 payout. Clues, which begin Feb. 14, will be updated daily in Mesabi Tribune. Only 400 wristbands are available, for $3 before Feb. 14; $10 after the hunt begins.
All proceeds from both fundraisers benefit RRAR.
The #BettyWhiteChallenge was a great help to the shelter, which currently has about a dozen cats and nearly 20 dogs, including some puppies, seeking forever homes, Colbert said. “We got a ton of donations and we are still getting them.”
Colbert said she expects a total of about $13,000 from the challenge, including a $5,000 match from the Robert and Rebecca Pohlad Family Foundation, a grassroots Minnesota philanthropy organization which has assisted the shelter in the past.
Money from the challenge will mainly help with running the shelter and paying veterinary bills, which are becoming more expensive, said the manager.
Surgeries are especially costly, running thousands of dollars. Flower, for instance, currently in foster care, needs “very expensive orthopedic surgery,” Colbert said. While the shelter doesn’t know her history, tests show one of her hip joints is seriously injured and there are issues with some bones.
Colbert, who recently became the shelter’s manager, said she also plans to develop more community initiatives through the shelter.
At Contented Critters Animal Shelter, which recently moved from Makinen to Ely, the #BettyWhiteChallenge raised more than $9,000.
“It is absolutely incredible that we are supported by the community. I'm extremely grateful for everyone and their generosity,” said Hailey Worth, the shelter’s new director.
“This amount of money will help out immensely — from vet bills, to transporting animals, to continuing to save animals and bettering our building.”
The shelter building is slated to be renovated this spring “so that we can take in more animals,” she noted. “This money will help the shelter for such a long period of time. I would like to give a huge thanks to everyone who has donated.”
Contented Critters, which had many adoptions last month, has only a handful of cats and dogs currently. “Our capacity isn't much right now since we haven't renovated yet, but we still are taking in strays, surrenders and doing transports,” Worth said. “We have a transport leaving South Carolina Feb. 11, from an overflowed shelter. In that case we rescue them from euthanasia and find loving homes for them up here.”
The Mesabi Humane Society in Virginia, which will hold a fundraising bingo starting at 6 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Virginia Elks Lodge No. 1003, also benefited from the #BettyWhiteChallenge.
“So far there has been a tremendous outpouring of donations made in memory of Betty White, and we are still receiving donations through PayPal and in the mail,” said Mary Stocco, shelter manager.
The shelter, licensed for 100 animals, is “at capacity,” she said. “Typically this is a quiet time for us.” However, the shelter — staffed daily and open by appointment for potential adoptions — has been full for months.
Proceeds from the challenge will assist with “the unexpected surge of animals,” helping to cover veterinarian checkups, vaccines and spay and neuter costs, Stocco said. A few of the animals have kidney disease and need pricey treatments, she added.
Stocco said “adoptions were through the roof” during the beginning of the pandemic, when many people were adopting animals during quarantine. She does not believe the shelter is getting any of those animals back. Rather, there have been some rescues from hoarding situations, strays and other abandoned animals. “You can’t plan for” when there will be upsurges, she added. “It’s the nature of the beast. Right now it has not let up since fall.”
Stocco said the shelter is grateful for donors — those who answered to the #BettyWhiteChallenge and those who contribute throughout the year to keep the important work at the shelter going.
Worth, at Contented Critters, agreed.
“I can't say how thankful we are for having such an incredible group of supporters who believe in us and believe in saving the animals,” she said.
Betty White — who, in her 2011 book, wrote, “my preoccupation with animals is an open secret” — would be proud.
And, surely, she would be overjoyed that “a sweet, happy-go-lucky puppy” named Flower, who bravely “masks her pain,” is on the road to a healthier life.