Tennessee Animal Groups Benefit from the Betty White Challenge

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Donations were made to animal welfare groups Jan. 17 in honor of actress and animal advocate Betty White, support that local organization leaders say comes at a time when the needs are great.

COVID-19 precautions have weighed on regular fundraising and adoption events, and shelters are seeing high demand.

“Our expenses are going up and donations are going down,” said Diane Martin, president of the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Blount County Animal Center.

Animals entering the center are older and sicker, she said, and on January 14, 50 cats were released to the facility.

The majority of these cats are sick, she says, with the Giardia parasite or the panleukopenia virus. One died, leaving three kittens. “Most of it hasn’t been spayed or neutered,” Martin said.

“We’ve had several animals that were hit by cars that required $2,500 surgeries,” Martin said. Additionally, animals with skin conditions required special feeding and veterinary care ranging from $500 to $1,000.

“We get close to 2,000 animals a year, she said, and the typical cost to spay or spay and vaccinate them is around $125 each.

The center not only needs cat litter dollars and donations, but also volunteers to foster the animals, Martin said.

When The Daily Times spoke with Martin on Jan. 17, SMACF had seen nearly $1,200 come in as part of the Betty White Challenge.


At the Maryville/Alcoa Animal Rescue Center, dog and cat intakes have likely doubled in the past year, board member Lisa Breazeale said. “It’s very draining on our resources,” she says.

MAARC offered a t-shirt with an image of White, a quote and “Thank you for being a friend” for donations of $25 or more.

Through a donation to the Jeff Breazeale Foundation, MAARC also received a match for every donation in White’s honor, up to $10,000, through Jan. 17. By early afternoon Jan. 17, they had already received $2,500, according to Lisa Breazeale.

“We definitely benefited from the Betty White Challenge,” said Kristin Baksa, president of the Blount County Animal Welfare Society. “It’s just a good time because these cold weather calls are killing us.”

The organization works with owners for the safe retention of pets, such as providing isolated kennels, fences or kennels, even food and urgent veterinary care when needed. When an animal needs another home, it works with rescue organizations.

BCAWS has only about 10 volunteers to respond across the county to calls of animals chained up in cold or heat without access to adequate food, water and shelter. The conditions may comply with the requirements of local laws, but continue to raise concerns.

Since BCAWS began two and a half years ago, it has helped 180 families and at least 25 continue to receive assistance, Baksa said.

As volunteers like the Girl Scouts made insulated doghouses for the BCAWS, the cost of materials nearly doubled, to $150.

To free the dogs from chains, the BCAWS will provide 10 x 10 foot kennels, and they cost around $100, at $350 each.

“BCAWS fills a big gap in animal welfare in this community,” Baksa said, and about $1,000 from the challenge will help.


A woman who donated $10 to the Human Society of East Tennessee told co-founder Sue Burda, “I promised Betty I would donate.”

“A $10 donation for us is a bag of food or two bags of kitty litter,” Burda explained.

HSET focuses on older or more difficult-to-adopt animals. The Maryville facility currently has 32 cats, and Burda said they are expecting eight dogs. The organization also helps in other ways, such as making sure owners of older pets can get to veterinary appointments.

People Promoting Animal Welfare has been working to raise an additional $200,000 for a new spay and neuter clinic near Friendsville. Last year, PPAW performed more than 6,700 procedures, up from a previous record of just over 6,000.

Veterinarian Dr. Kelly Simonian said on the afternoon of January 17 that the Betty White Challenge brought in just under $900 for PPAW.


Appalachian Bear Rescue received approximately $3,600 on Jan. 17, thanks to people honoring Betty White.

Executive Director Dana Dodd had been focused on releasing the ABR’s last bear of the season on January 14 and raising money specifically for needed surgeries.

Even with “huge discounts,” she said, the bill came to $4,255.77, and ABR offered an incentive for people who donated for it before the end of Jan. 16. This fundraiser raised over $5,400.

“Everyone is very generous with our bears,” Dodd said.