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The Author Speaks

Betty White: My Life at the Zoo

The TV star, animal lover and celebrated AARP member talks about her new photo book.

Q. You end the book with a chapter called "my misunderstood friends," about animals many people don't want to cuddle up to.

A. The snakes, of course, are the first ones people think, oh no! I have a wonderful assistant and I take her to the zoo's big fundraiser every year. There are keepers stationed around the event. And we have a couple of wonderful snakes that you can handle and pet. Well, it took me a couple of years, but I got her to touch a snake at one point.

Q. And?

A. She was expecting it to be slimy and wet and icky, like so many people do. They are so dry and so beautiful and so warm! I didn't make a snake devotee out of her, but they don't make her shudder anymore. And of course I love them. I can hold them and we have one boa, Jacob, and I can hold him and put him on my shoulder. It's a passion that I wouldn't trade for anything.

Q. You also have an animal closer to home, your dog, Pontiac.

A. Oh well that's my heart, my golden retriever. Pontiac was trained to be a guide dog, but he had a bum leg, which got him out of that program. Whenever I come home late from work at night, I come up to the house and here's this big golden head in the window on the left stairway landing, looking out and waiting for me. I sit down on the couch and he'll bring me one of his dead snowmen. A friend sent him a stuffed snowman one time and it just became his passion. So then a friend sent him a whole box of snowmen. We have regular snowstorms in the living room when he shakes all the stuffing out.

Q. How do you balance your volunteer work with your busy acting schedule?

A. It's not easy. That's the problem. Scheduling is a toughie, but I'm on the zoo board, so I try to make those meetings. And I try to visit it in as much spare time as I can, but somehow my schedule gets booked out farther and farther ahead until I'm embarrassed. A friend will ask me out to dinner, and I'll say I can't next week, I can't the week after, I can't next month. I am going to have to start practicing saying no.

Q. Do you ever take a day off?

A. Not really because nothing else stops. Everything else like the mail gets ahead of me. My wonderful assistant comes in and we'll sit down and go through as much of the fan mail as we can. But my personal mail kind of stacks up. I try to keep that up, but I'm losing a little ground these days.

Q. What new work projects are you cooking up?

A. I have a new show starting called Off Their Rockers. It's a hidden-camera game show, kind of like Candid Camera, except this is older people pranking younger people. That's a big time-consumer.

Betsy Towner is based in California.

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