- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Betty White is headed to Washington to see the wildlife — not the donkeys and elephants on Capitol Hill, but the animals in the National Zoo.

After a stop at the Smithsonian Institution on Thursday, Miss White will visit the zoo a day later to indulge her passion: animal watching. She’s looking forward to viewing the fertility-challenged pandas and a harmonica-playing elephant, among other animals.

“My interest in animals started in the womb,” the 90-year-old actress told the Associated Press. “I think my mother’s and father’s started in the same place. They were animal nuts long before I came along.”

When Miss White was young, her family had pet Pekingese, an “unappreciated little toy dog” that is incredibly intelligent, she said.

During the Depression, her father starting building radios to make some extra money. But most people couldn’t afford to buy radios, she said, so her father would trade them, usually for more dogs. At one point, they wound up with 11 dogs in the house.

“Now the radios didn’t eat, but the dogs did,” Miss White said. “It was not really his best business venture.”

Even at 90, Miss White continues to keep a busy schedule. Her NBC show, “Off Their Rockers,” about seniors playing pranks on young people, was just renewed for another season. She also has a TV Land sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland.”

Miss White lives in Brentwood, Calif., with her golden retriever, Pontiac, who used to be a guide dog.

“I like to think of it as the Indian chief and not the car,” she said of her pet’s namesake. “As a matter of fact, when the car company went out of business, I sat him down and I said, ‘Oh, Pontiac, it wasn’t anything you did, sweetie.’”

In Washington, Miss White will visit a sold-out crowd Thursday at the Smithsonian Associates, an educational division of the museum complex. And she will sign copies of her book “Betty and Friends: My Life at the Zoo.”

It’s a mostly picture book compiled over the years with facts about animals. Since 1974, Miss White has served as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. So she gives readers a tour of animals at the Los Angeles Zoo and many other leading zoos across the country.

She closes her book with parting shots of a giraffe’s behind, followed by a bear’s behind.

When Miss White has a chance to visit a zoo, she said she likes to stay for a long time and watch the animals relax. She wrote her book to let people know about all the good that zoos do.

“So many people say: ‘Oh, I hate zoos. I want all the animals to be back in their natural habitat,’” she said. “Well, you know what we’ve done to their natural habitat.

“Without zoos, we would have lost already so many species.”

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