Bob Barker made history as America’s longest-running television host, with his 35 years on “The Price is Right,” 18 on “Truth or Consequences” and more. But the 91-year-old’s most impactful legacy just might turn out to be his work in animal rights. Having set up endowments for the study of animal law at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Northwestern University, Georgetown, Columbia, Duke and the University of Virginia several years ago, he’s getting word that other colleges are emulating their focus.
“There are universities I haven’t helped at all that are establishing their own courses on animal law,” he says with some surprise.
He’s also heard back from students involved in this field of study — gratifying notice of young people dedicating themselves to the protection of animals. The classes “are very popular, apparently,” notes Barker, who was named an Honorary Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in 2010. “They are accomplishing precisely what I set out to accomplish. They are getting excellent students and they’re going on to things I had hoped they would.”
In a time when news reports are full of alarming information about the straits of our natural world and the animals therein, he finds there are encouraging signs — starting with increased public awareness of heretofore little-seen problems. “The animal rights movement is like a snowball,” he declares. “It’s rolling and getting bigger and bigger and there’s no stopping it now. Things are really happening. I’m so optimistic.”
His activism has taken him from lobbying against cruel rodeo practices in Canada to circus rescues in Peru. The latter, current efforts with Animal Defenders International, he terms “the biggest and most complex animal rescue ever attempted. It’s going so well the Peruvian government has requested that ADI help rescue monkeys and other animals in Peru from the illegal wildlife trade — which is something we’re all concerned with, those of us in the animal rights movement.”
One can’t help noticing Barker’s sharpness and energy during an afternoon’s chat. It’s remarkable for a man his age. The WWII naval aviator’s piquant humor was recently on display when he was seen joking in a TV interview that people talk a lot about the atomic bomb ending the war, but it was really him and his Corsair.
Perhaps not surprisingly, he attributes his healthful zest to his vegetarianism.
“I’ve been vegetarian about 30-35 years. My wife became a vegetarian and I decided I would, too,” he says, referring to his beloved Dorothy Jo, who passed away in 1981 after 36 years of marriage. “I became a vegetarian and I’ve never been sorry about it. I did ‘Price is Right’ until I was 83 years old, and ‘Price’ is an hour show and not sitting at a desk; there’s a lot of moving around and physical activity in it. I don’t think I could ever have done it if I hadn’t become a vegetarian.”
He goes on, “I became a vegetarian out of concern for animals, but I soon realized that the people who preached the healthful qualities of being a vegetarian are right and it’s been good for me.”
Also, “I work out every day. I lift some light weights and I do a lot of stretching and I get on the elliptical machine, and that’s good for my heart. I’m very conscientious. I think that as you get old — at any age your diet and exercise are important, but as you get older you MUST exercise and you MUST eat a healthy diet or you’re going to be shuffling around.”
Barker is certainly a shining example of the benefits of such a lifestyle.
He laughs. “I’ve never been described as a shining example of anything before, but I like it!”
Although he pops up on TV from time to time — as in his April 1 “Price is Right” appearance as “Drew Carey” and his recent turns on “The Bold and The Beautiful” — Barker makes it clear he’s having “a very successful retirement” and isn’t interested in any more regular gigs.
He’d rather make his calls and do his talks about animal welfare. Occasionally, animals call on Barker. One of the organizations he helps is the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center that does work on behalf of wolves. “They have a wonderful wolf out there called Wiley, and Wiley and I just struck it off,” says Barker. “He seems to like me and I love Wiley. I have a big picture of Wiley, and I told my new housekeeper, ‘He’s going to come visit.’ She said, ‘A WOLF?!'”
He laughs. “This gentleman from the rescue center brought Wiley to the house. I sat on the patio and talked to him, then Wiley went to her and she thought it was wonderful. He ran all over the house and she loved it. Wiley is a good friend, I’ll tell you. He’s just so big and friendly.”
Considering all the characters with whom Barker contended on “The Price is Right” all those years, it’s no wonder he can handle a wolf.