Bob Barker’s amazing campaigns
By Michael Mountain
Claudia, a colleague of mine, once told me about being invited to dinner with TV host Bob Barker. Barker was a friend of the family, so it was just a social affair, with about six people around the table.
“He was just like you see him on The Price Is Right,” Claudia said. “Absolutely charming and delightful, and a complete control freak! Like, while we were all still looking at the menu, Bob called over the waiter and simply went ahead ordered whatever he thought would be best for each of us.”
This may have been because Barker had recently become a vegetarian and perhaps didn’t want anyone at the table ordering anything non-veggie. “Whatever,” Claudia said, “it was all good food and great conversation.”
Last December, Barker turned 87. But nothing is holding him back from his single, focused passion in life: protecting animals from abuse. It’s like he has a whole new lease on life. There’s barely a week when he’s not in the news, leading the charge for animals of almost every kind.
Last Saturday, he was guest of honor at a special evening for the group Mercy for Animals, where he donated $250,000 to their work going undercover at factory farms. (See third item here.)
This week he has released a video imploring people to stay away from SeaWorld and other marine circuses, and he’s asking stations in Orlando to air it so that vacationing families will see it in their hotel rooms.
A few weeks ago, he was in Toronto on a two-day campaign on behalf of three elephants who urgently need to be moved from the zoo to a warm sanctuary where they’ll have some room to stretch their legs. He’s also been working on behalf of another group of elephants living equally miserable lives at Canada’s Edmonton Zoo. (He’s also funded a new home for elephants at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s sanctuary in California, which is where he hopes the elephants would go.)
In February, he was in Colorado, welcoming 25 lions from Bolivia with a donation of $150,000 for their care at the Wild Animal Sanctuary.
And last year he paid $5 million for a new ship for Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to replace the one that was sunk while going after the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.
The list goes on.
Barker isn’t the kind of celebrity who simply shows up to add his name to a cause and makes the occasional donation.
He’s an expert on every issue he takes on, a formidable speaker, and full of energy at every event. (In Toronto, he was on his feet for hours one morning, conducting a press conference and then doing stand-up interviews for all the local TV stations, before going on to a meeting with the zoo board. Everywhere he went he was mobbed by people wanting photos and autographs.)
The idea that Barker “retired” when, at age 83, he left The Price Is Right, clearly makes no sense. It’s more like he was reborn – as though everything he’d done before that was just in preparation for what he then launched as his life’s true work.
He’d always spoken out for the animals, like ending every episode of The Price Is Right with the reminder to the folks at home to get their pets spayed or neutered. Other game show hosts, including Jack Barry, would pick up on this and start doing the same thing. And he’d bowed out of hosting the Miss Universe pageant in protest when the organizers insisted on including fur in their prizes.
How did all this start for him? As is often the case with us men, we’re turned on to animal protection by one of the women in our lives. In Barker’s case, he credits his wife, Dorothy Jo, with helping him to become aware of the plight of animals.
He says that what he does today continues to be in her memory.
I used to be bothered by the fact that Barker is a bit ambivalent about the no-kill movement, which seeks to bring an end to the killing of dogs and cats at shelters. He’s quite close to the animal rights group PETA, which kills most of the homeless pets who are given over to their care, so they may have persuaded him that supporting no-kill sanctuaries is a waste of money and that those of us who do that are just, as they call it, “warehousing animals.”
But in view of all the amazingly good things Barker does, I’m just not bothered anymore. In any case, he clearly doesn’t apply that philosophy to the elephants, lions and other animals he provides for in their new sanctuaries. And with his enormous support of spay/neuter efforts and his indefatigable work for dogs, cats, bears, fish, elephants, whales, lions and whatever other animals he feels he can help, I consider him one of the greatest philanthropists of our time.
And, incidentally, if he ever invites me out to dinner, I won’t even bother to look at the menu; he can just go ahead and order anything he wants for me!