Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Growing up on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Barker says that his earliest memories include animals. "My mother and I lived in a hotel which was the only two-story building in town. When my mom wanted me, she’d go to the top of the hotel and look for the dogs. Wherever the dogs were, that’s where I was. I always had a pack of dogs with me. I loved animals then, I love animals now...and I always shall. Not just dogs and cats, but everything."
Not every animal lover becomes an activist, and for Bob Barker the transformation was gradual. "About 20 years ago I was chairman of Be Kind to Animals Week in L.A. I was invited by different organizations to participate in their activities. As I did, I began to become aware of the terrible exploitation of animals in the world and felt compelled to try to rectify the situation. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since."
A man who lives by his convictions, Barker has been a vegetarian since 1979. "My wife who died in 1981 had been a vegetarian for years. When I became a vegetarian," he explained, "I gave up red meat and fowl, and gradually fish and dairy products as well. I did it out of concern for animals, but I have certainly learned why so many people are becoming vegetarians out of concern for health reasons. I can control my weight better than before, I feel better, I have more energy, and I think that it is certainly a healthful way of life."
Despite his healthy lifestyle, he was hospitalized only two months ago and underwent surgery to remove blockage in his left carotid artery. "Congressman Sam Farr (D- Northern CA) had invited me to speak to a group of Congressman in Washington, D.C. about the Captive Elephant Act," Bob said. "It was then that I had this problem, and I had to have surgery."
He’s thankful that he was in Washington D.C. when he was taken ill. "They took me to George Washington University Hospital, not only one of the finest hospitals in the United States, but it specializes in problems above the shoulders. So I was in exactly the right place. I’m grateful that I recognized the symptoms and I urge everyone to be aware of them: I got up that morning and I felt less than motivated, I just didn’t have any energy and I had a tingling in my right arm. After tests were taken, they told me that I was a ripe candidate for a stroke. So I opted to have the surgery right then."
Bob adds that "any doctor should be able to put a stethoscope along your throat and tell if there’s an obstruction. I do the things that you’re urged to do to prevent having a stroke or a heart attack, so you would think that this would not happen to me."
Although he never got to speak to the congressmen, "there was so much media attention to my illness that it really worked out better than a public relations representative could have planned," Bob said. "The bill, as a result, got far more publicity than we ever could have hoped for. In fact, one friend of mine said that I had done a lot more for elephants flat on my back than I could have ever done on my feet. And that’s probably true."
The bill, HR2929, calls for the banning of the use of elephants in circuses. "Elephants have suffered terribly ever since they have been used in circuses, and many, if not most of the people who go to circuses have no idea how miserably the elephants live and how terribly they are treated in order to make them perform," Bob explains. "I am doing all I can to help expose this cruelty. I am also hopeful that as people become more aware of the terrible suffering of animals in circuses that they will refuse to attend them. And that animals in circuses will become a thing of the past."
"Today there are probably 5 – 10 circuses without animals that are doing well," Bob continued, "and I might add thatRingling Brothers, which is one of the worst offenders, now has one show on the road that has no animals except ducks and geese. Ringling Brothers and all the circuses are very concerned about this bill, which is getting support from both sides of the aisle. I hope that everyone and anyone who reads The Pet Press will write to their congressmen and urge them to support HR2929."
As a man who practices what he preaches, Bob Barker does not wear anything made of leather. One of his most visible stands became known as "the Fur Flap of 1987", when he had a stand off with the producers of the Miss Universe Pageant over the use of fur coats on the show. "I began talking to the producers of the pageant (which he hosted), urging them to stop giving away furs as prizes. Our discussions were leaked to the press. It attracted media attention unlike anything anyone could have predicted and was the best thing that ever happened in the anti-fur campaign. As it turned out, the producers agreed the contestants would not wear the fur coats, and I did the pageants. But in 1988 they reneged on their promise to give up fur coats as prizes, and that’s when I resigned as host."
The day after Thanksgiving is "Fur Free Friday," when anti-fur activists make their voices heard in very public ways. Says Barker, "I urge anyone who has the opportunity to speak out against fur to make their contempt for fur known at every opportunity, and to point out that fur is no longer sheik… that it is a thing of the past. Most of the young people are not wearing fur. It’s the older people who wear it. When this generation is no more, hopefully fur will be no more."
Bob’s beliefs are also incorporated in the production of his daily game show. "The Price Is Right is not a fitting platform for me to espouse my animal rights beliefs," he explains. "But there are certain things that I am able to do. We stopped giving away fur coats many years ago. In addition we don’t give away anything leather, no hunting safaris, and if it is a trip to Spain, the last thing you’ll see is a bullfight." He adds that "once a week we’ll have an animal on the show in some sort of setting that came from a shelter. I will mention that if you don’t live out here, just go to the shelter near your home and you’ll find a fine friend." He also closes each show urging his viewers to "help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered."
Believing that there are just too many cats and dogs being born, Bob Barker set up a foundation in 1994 that funds grants for spay/neuter clinics. Called the DJ & T Foundation for his wife and mother who both loved animals, Barker reports that the foundation "has helped clinics all over the United States. We’ve given away more than a million dollars in grants. The foundation helps low-cost or free spay/neuter clinics; low-cost or free mobile clinics, and organizations that are establishing clinics."
Sharing Bob’s home life are a cat named Dulce and a 2 ½ year old Labrador named Winston that was saved by a friend. (Bob lost his long-time, faithful companion Federico, pictured with him on the cover, about 7 months ago to cancer.) When Winston was offered to Bob, he took him in. "I knew that I was ready for another dog when my friend couldn’t find a home for Winston," Bob said. "He needed help and I knew that I could provide it. I’m delighted that I did. I’ve had him about 3 months. He’s just a great friend and he and I are thriving together. He’s nursing me back to health."
Bob wants his fans to know that "I feel very, very good. I feel better than I really expected to at this stage. I’m getting my strength back and I’ve started exercising again slowly. The doctors have told me that when you have this type of problem and it’s corrected, you feel better once you’ve recovered from the surgery than you ever did before. And I’m beginning to believe that that’s going to be true because I feel so good already."
Bob Barker’s animals are his family. "I can’t exaggerate how important they are to my life. I don’t know what my life would have been without animals. When I come home, they’re there to greet me, and they’re the last things I see when I leave for the studio. I absolutely adore them and love them, and I think it would be a very lonely life without them. I recommend them for any old, gray-haired man living alone."
Adored by millions, Bob Barker is a man who has brought much happiness to his game-show fans. And with his generous donation to his DJ & T Foundation, hopefully the price will always be right for people to help him in his dream to control the pet population. In fact, when he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award this summer, he said he was asked to say something profound. He ended his speech with these words: "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spay or neutered."
Published November, 1999
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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