Bob Barker is an American icon. As host of The Price Is Right, the personable star touched millions – and gave away millions of dollars in prizes too! A true animal lover, Barker has used his celebrity to further animal causes; he famously ended each episode of Price with his send-off line, “Help control the pet population: Have your pets spayed or neutered.” And since retiring, the 85-year-old star has continued to help animals around the world, a cause he talks about in his new memoir, Priceless Memories, out earlier this month. Barker recently took a few minutes to speak with PEOPLE Pets about his latest endeavors.
So what have you been up to since retiring?
Well, I helped persuade Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, Alaska, to release Maggie the elephant. Maggie had been up there for years in that inclement climate, which is not at all good for elephants. I called a friend of mine, Congressman Bill Young of Florida, who had heard about her, and was delighted to help. He said, “I think I can get her a ride, Bob!” Shortly after that I had a call from a general with the U.S. Air Force, who said he had just the plane to fly Maggie to California, leaving from Anchorage and landing at Travis Air Force Base in California, which is near the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary where Maggie was going to spend the rest of her days. I thanked him profusely, and paid the bill myself. She’s now living at the sanctuary and thriving. She fits in perfectly, has friends she plays with all day long in the mud hole and the pond, and roams throughout the acres of land.
I was also instrumental in getting the passage of an ordinance in Los Angeles that mandates spay/neuter for cats and dogs … [and the] message seems to be sweeping across the country. I went to Chicago and spoke to the city council there, where they are currently considering an ordinance. I also helped pass the ordinance in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, and now New York is considering it. All of us who are interested in the welfare of animals, the reason we try so hard to get the message about spay/neuter out, is because one of the worst problems for animals in the world is overpopulation. There are just too many cats and dogs born for them all to have homes.
Have you been actively fund-raising for animal causes since retiring?
I have a foundation called the DJ&T Foundation, named in memory of my wife Dorothy Jo, and my mom Matilda, whom we called Tilly. It subsidizes spay/neuter all over the U.S. through local organizations. Since 1994, we’ve been giving away more than one-million dollars a year for the purpose of spay/neuter. It’s set up in such a way that it will continue long after I’m gone. I make no effort to get contributions – I finance it myself. Friends make contributions at Christmas and my birthday, but I’m not out pitching it.
Also, I’ve set up an endowment fund at eight of the finest law schools in the country, called the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights. I started with Harvard, because it has such tremendous prestige – I figured if I got it going at Harvard, I could pitch it anywhere and it would be accepted. It worked perfectly! Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, UVA and Northwestern all have the same endowment now. … If these young people should go into politics on the local, state or national level, they’ll be in a position to influence legislation.
When I was still working, I did a lot of foundation work in the mornings before I went in to tape the show, and now, I’m spending more time on my foundation work, along with other projects. I just got back from Florida, where I hosted the 20th anniversary gala for Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. So I’m getting around on behalf of animals!
Tell us more about your own pet!
I have Jessie the dog, who’s a shelter dog – the only kind of dog to get! I was told she was 5 when I got her, and she’s been with me for four years, so that would make her 9. And just like Maggie the elephant, she has thrived. She’s actually at the beauty parlor right now! She’s a mixed breed – chow and golden retriever. Everyone tells me she’s beautiful.
Do you address your animal activism in your new book?
In the book, Priceless Memories, I talk about many of my projects and animals that I’ve owned over the years. When I set out to write it, I decided first of all I wanted to write a happy book because anything I’ve been involved with in television has been happy. I did Truth or Consequence for years, followed by beauty pageants, parades, The Price Is Right and even the Pillsbury bake-off. I’m basically a happy guy, and I wanted to write a happy book, which is what I’ve done.
Editor’s Note: In true Bob Barker style, he concluded our interview with, Help control the pet population, have your pets spayed or neutered!