If you’re a child of the 80’s like me, then sick days were synonymous with soup, saltines… and The Price is Right. Thus the passing of Bob Barker was a little more heartbreaking for a couple of reasons. One being the nostalgia we recall in that magical hour of game show goodness where every day people are called out of the audience and invited to “come on down” and if they were lucky, we watched them spin the big wheel – television gold. The second reason was special then, and even more so now, when I realize what Bob Barker did for animals when he took the time out of every episode to remind people to “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” And it wasn’t simply those few moments as he wrapped up the show each day, he devoted his life to animals.
Bob was a man who stood behind his words – with actions, and in 1995 he established the DJ&T Foundation, which finances clinics that specialize in spaying and neutering. The foundation was named after Mr. Barker’s wife, Dorothy Jo, and his mother, Matilda Valandra, who was known as Tilly. The foundation helps fund low-cost spay/neuter clinics and voucher programs to underserved communities experiencing high euthanasia rates.
“There are just too many cats and dogs being born,” he explained in an interview with The New York Times in 2004. “Animals are being euthanized by the millions simply because there are not enough homes for them. In the United States, there is a dog or cat euthanized every 6.5 seconds.”
And in 2012, thanks to Bob’s generosity, PETA was able to open its West Coast headquarters. “Bob’s influence on the entertainment industry is indisputable, but what mattered to him most was using his voice and prominent position to protect animals,” said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. However, PETA wasn’t the only organization to receive financial support from Bob. He also awarded $1 million to Columbia Law School to support animal rights law initiatives in 2004.
In a news release about the award, Columbia Law School noted that Barker had been vocal about his support for animals rights for several decades, and even refused to host the 1987 Miss USA Pageant if the contestants wore real fur. Although the pageant conceded, he ultimately resigned in 1988 after hosting for 21 years because organizers refused to remove fur coats from its prize packages.
“He said he thought he could put the Japanese whaling fleet out of business if he had $5 million,” Mr. Barker said of Mr. Watson in an interview with The Associated Press. “I said, ‘I think you do have the skills to do that, and I have $5 million, so let’s get it on.’”
And Bob’s love of animals went beyond land and across the sea as well. He donated $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society at the urging of its founder Paul Watson, who used the money to buy a ship aptly named the Bob Barker, for use in the organization’s anti-whaling campaigns.
First built in 1951 as a whaling vessel, the Bob Barker spent 71 years at sea including time as a Norwegian Coast Guard vessel, an eco-tourism vessel and as a refueling barge before Sea Shepherd acquired the vessel in 2009.
Thanks to the generosity of Bob Barker, Sea Shepherd turned a whaling vessel into an anti-whaling ship.
For six years, the Bob Barker chased the Japanese whaling fleet around the Antarctic continent. One year, the hull plates buckled and steel rails bent, as Bob Barker sandwiched between an 8,000-ton floating whale slaughterhouse and a 5,000-ton refuel tanker, successfully preventing the former from bunkering, and forcing the whaling fleet to end their season early.
In 2015, the Bob Barker set the world record for the longest maritime pursuit in history, chasing the most notorious poaching vessel in the word, an internationally-wanted fishing vessel named Thunder, for 110 days, across three oceans and covering 11,000 nautical miles until the captain of Thunder, unable to shake Sea Shepherd, sank his own vessel to destroy the evidence on board.
When asked how he would like to be remembered, Bob once said…
“I think I would like to be remembered as a man who loved living things and did everything he could do to make it better for animals. And when he had time, he did a lot of television shows, too.”
Bob Barker was an undeniable magnet for people and animals alike. Part of that appeal was the fact that he always led with his heart, and that shone brighter than any sound stage or set. We all knew we had a friend in Bob, and that friendship not only saved or improved the lives of countless animals, but made us all want to be better friends to them as well. Wherever we go after this life, Mr. Barker, I certainly hope you are greeted by 1,000 wagging tails, happy wet noses, and the loving, thankful touches of a million paws, claws, feathers and fins.
Thank you for being a friend to us all.