Rue McClanahanEmmy award-winning actress and longtime animal activist Rue McClanahan has died at the age of 76.

Best known for her role on the popular sitcom, The Golden Girls, McClanahan was a tireless advocate for animals (something she had in common with with her co-stars Betty White and Bea Arthur.) She was one of the earliest supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews says she was “our first champion in Hollywood and helped establish the organization as a household name.” She starred in their first anti-fur ad campaign, and did several public service announcements urging people to spay or neuter their pets, and to always adopt from animal shelters rather than buying from shops or breeders. According to Mathews, “she became so active that she was PETA’s honorary director for almost three decades.”

PETA wasn’t the only animal advocacy group to benefit from Rue McClanahan’s kindness. She worked with Alley Cat Allies on behalf of America’s feral cats, and was part of their “I’m an Alley Cat Ally” campaign to raise awareness about the millions of Americans who care for stray and feral cats in their communities. “Cats have always been a part of my life, ever since I was a little girl in Oklahoma,” said McClanahan. “In fact, my most recent cat, Kate, was a stray that just showed up at my backdoor in Manhattan, walked right in and has been in charge ever since.”

Rue McClanahan was also perfectly willing to directly lobby politicians on behalf of animals. She helped ban cockfighting in her home state of Oklahoma in 2002 and, in 2004, sent a letter to New Mexico’s then-governor Bill Richardson, calling on his state to outlaw the practice as well. Calling cockfighting “simple, old-fashioned animal abuse,” she made it clear that “knife fights between roosters have no place in our society.” In 2007, Governor Richardson signed a bill banning cockfighting in New Mexico.

In 2005, McClanahan wrote to President Bush about New Orleans residents being forced to leave their pets behind as they were evacuated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In her letter, she asked Bush to “show the world that America cares about people and their beloved dogs, cats, and other animal companions by immediately directing federal authorities involved in evacuations from New Orleans to stop forcing residents to leave their animals behind.”

Rue McClanahan’s efforts on behalf of animals will surely be missed. It is worth considering her response to an interviewer from Women on Writing about what people could do to help animals. She responded, “Join PETA. Join local rescue groups. Support spaying and neutering programs. Donate money. Give your time to rallies and shelters. Adopt only from shelters. Never see a stray that you don’t befriend and find a home for. I never do!”

Good words to be remembered by.

Photo Credit: Kevin Buckstiegel