Animal advocacy philanthropist died at 99
HOLLYWOOD HILLS, California––Animal advocacy philanthropist and retired radio and television game show host Bob Barker might be said to have begun his rise to stardom, and his work on behalf of animals, as the barking voice of canine hero Rin Tin Tin, 1950-1955, during the last five of the 25 years that Rin Tin Tin radio programs were on the air.
Barker the former radio barker, age 99, on August 26, 2023 died from natural causes at his home in Hollywood Hills, California.
Raised on Rosebud Sioux Reservation
Robert William Barker, as he was formally named, was born on December 12, 1923 in the then unincorporated logging town of Darrington, Washington, a Snowhomish County community known at the time chiefly for resistance to Prohibition, established by the U.S. constitutional amendment which from 1920 to 1933 forbade the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages.
Bob Barker’s father, Byron John Barker, an electrical lineman, was grandson of a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe; his mother Matilda Tarleton Barker was a schoolteacher. Their stay in Darrington was brief.
Relocating back to Mission, South Dakota, on the Rosebud Reservation, Matilda Barker became superintendent of schools for Todd County, and wrote a history of South Dakota for sixth graders. Spending most of his youth on the Rosebud Reservation, Bob Barker claimed Rosebud Sioux citizenship.
Trained as World War II fighter pilot
Byron John Barker died in a fall from a power pole in 1929. Remarried in 1931, Matilda retired from teaching and with her new husband moved the family to Springfield, Missouri.
There Bob Barker attended Cathedral High School, at age 15 met his future wife Dorothy Jo Gideon at an Ella Fitzgerald concert, and won a basketball scholarship to Drury College, now Drury University.
World War II interrupted Bob Barker’s studies. Joining the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1943, Bob Barker trained as a fighter pilot, but never saw combat.
Married Dorothy Jo Gideon
Marrying Dorothy Jo Gideon on January 12, 1945, while on leave from the Navy, Bob Barker upon discharge resumed studies at Drury College, earning a degree in economics in 1947 with summa cum laude honors.
Bob Barker by then had already debuted in radio with KTTS-FM in Springfield. Post-graduation, Bob Barker was for several years news editor and announcer for WWPG 1340 AM in Palm Beach, Florida.
Bored with that, Bob and Dorothy Jo Gideon Barker moved to California in 1950.
From Rin Tin Tin to game shows
As well as becoming the barking voice of Rin Tin Tin, Bob Barker landed his own radio program, The Bob Barker Show, then dropped it in 1956 to host his first television game show, Truth or Consequences.
Continuing to host Truth or Consequences until 1975, Bob Barker in 1967 also became host for the televised Miss Universe pageant, and in 1972 took on a third role, as host for The Price Is Right game show, which had originally aired with a different host from 1956 to 1965.
Dorothy Jo Gideon Barker died from lung cancer in 1981, at age 57, reportedly leaving an undisclosed “large sum” to the American Humane Association.
“Have your pets spayed or neutered”
To that point, Bob Barker had never been particularly known as an animal advocate, but––taking much stronger positions than American Humane ever had––within the next year he became a vegetarian, later a vegan, and began ending The Price Is Right episodes and the Miss Universe pageant by saying, “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population – have your pets spayed or neutered.”
The percentage of the U.S. dog and cat population who have been spayed or neutered has climbed ever since, reaching more than 85% for owned cats and more than 70% for dogs, except for pit bulls, among whom the sterilization rate remains around 20%.
Bob Barker, according to Wikipedia, “From 1983 until his death was in a long-term relationship with Nancy Burnet,” founder of United Activists for Animal Rights, whom he met at an animal advocacy event.
“By mutual decision,” says Wikipedia, “Barker and Burnet were never married and lived in separate residences throughout their relationship.”
Said Burnet, who was reportedly with Bob Barker at his death, in a prepared statement released to Entertainment Tonight, “I am so proud of the trailblazing work Barker and I did together to expose the cruelty to animals in the entertainment industry and including working to improve the plight of abused and exploited animals in the United States and internationally. We were great friends over these 40 years. He will be missed.”
Split with Miss Universe pageant over fur
Animal advocacy brought Bob Barker into conflict with the Miss Universe pageant in 1988, at the all-time height of U.S. retail fur sales, when the pageant refused his request to stop including a fur coat as part of the winner’s prize package.
Bob Barker’s well-publicized resignation from the Miss Universe pageant coincided with a crash that cut U.S. retail fur sales in half over the next five years. In inflation-adjusted dollars, U.S. fur sales volume has never recovered.
Bernard Unti, then with the American Anti-Vivisection Society and now a senior vice president for the Humane Society of the U.S., recalls meeting Bob Barker circa 1988.
“He was preoccupied with learning where he could get some vegan belts and I told him,” posted Unti to Facebook.
Fought American Humane Association
Barker meanwhile had become involved in probably the biggest debacle of his career, alleging that Betty Denny Smith, director of the American Humane Association office in Hollywood, California, from 1988 to 1996, had ignored cruelty on the sets of two films, The Tender and Project X.
The American Humane Association had begun monitoring animal use in film productions in 1940, a role it still holds, a year after public outcry arose over the making of Jesse James, starring Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. A stunt man rode a horse over a 70-foot cliff. The stunt man lost his hat; the horse was killed.
Screen Actors Guild
However, the American Humane Association authority to monitor animal use comes through a contract with the Screen Actors Guild. The contract pertains only to sets and locations where Screen Actors Guild members are present.
This contract was updated by the Actors/Producers Bargaining Agreement negotiated in 1980 by the Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, but it has never given the American Humane Association law enforcement authority or the ability to monitor anything that animal trainers and suppliers do off-set on their own private property.
Project X, starring Matthew Broderick and Helen Hunt, was actually made in 1986-1987, before Betty Denny Smith worked for the American Humane Association.
First “animal rights” film?
Loosely based on work that former primate researcher Donald Barnes did for the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s and 1970s, Project X was widely heralded as the purported first feature film inspired by the modern animal rights movement.
The 1971 Stanley Kramer film Bless the Beasts and Children, however, has a strong prior claim to that distinction, despite having been made before the term “animal rights” was in common use.
$5,000 reward offered for witnesses
Bob Barker offered $5,000 to bring forth witnesses to rumored chimp abuse during the filming, and funded building facilities for the chimps used in Project X at the Primarily Primates sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas.
The chimps were transferred to Primarily Primates in 1987.
When purported witnesses to abuse of the chimps belatedly came forward, Robert Rush, then heading the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation, said he would prosecute the chimp trainers, but the statute of limitations had expired.
Bob Barker, Rush, Burnet, and her organization United Activists for Animal Rights then tried to remove the American Humane Association from having oversight authority over the use of animals on film sets.
Eventually the American Humane Association sued Bob Barker, Burnet, and United Activists for Animal Rights for libel. Rush enjoyed immunity as a public servant acting in the performance of his duties.
After Bob Barker lost a motion for summary judgement against the American Humane Association in June 1993, and lost appeals at both the appellate and state Supreme Court levels, his insurer moved to settle and the other parties on March 11, 1994 agreed to the terms, which included paying the American Humane Association $315,000.
Even that was not the end of the matter for Bob Barker, who brought it up again at a July 2015 media conference held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.
“I think they have failed miserably in their efforts to protect animals in the movie industry,” said Bob Barker of the American Humane Association, by then chiefly engaged in defending animal agribusiness, “and obviously they have failed miserably in any protection for animals in the food industry.”
The DJ&T Foundation
Later in 1994, after settling the American Humane Association libel suit, Bob Barker founded the DJ&T Foundation, named after both his late wife Dorothy Jo and his mother Matilda, who was often called Tillie for short.
Endowed with $10 million, the DJ&T Foundation subsequently contributed many millions of dollars to spay/neuter projects throughout the U.S.
Among the first major recipients was the Foundation Against Companion Animal Euthanasia, of Indianapolis, begun by emergency room physician Scott Robinson and his former wife Ellen Robinson.
Scott Robinson had worked his way through medical school as an usher for The Price Is Right. Bob Barker pledged to donate $20,000 in matching funds if the Robinsons could raise $180,000 of the $200,000 estimated clinic start-up costs from local sources. They did.
Grants to fix black & brown dogs over 40 pounds
“Many people in the spay/neuter community,” offered Spay First! founder Ruth Steinberger, “remember grants from DJ&T that supported solely the sterilization of black and brown dogs over 40 pounds. This not only addressed the majority of dogs giving birth to large litters who filled dog pounds, but represented a type of strategic thinking that set the DJ&T Foundation apart in a way that saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Bob Barker was much less successful in several attempts to pass so-called “mandatory” spay/neuter legislation. To avoid running afoul of the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects rights recognized as such in 1789 even if not explicitly spelled out, such legislation must always include broad exemptions that undermine the notion of “mandatory,” and have the effect of turning the legislation into conventional differential licensing requirements, offering discounted licensing fees as an incentive to spay or neuter.
Bob Barker eventually did help to pass an updated differential licensing ordinance that took effect in Los Angeles in 2008, but Los Angeles had already introduced differential licensing 36 years earlier.
Puppy mill regulation
Bob Barker also helped “Animal Defenders International and other U.S. animal protection groups,” an Animal Defenders International media release said, to pass Missouri Proposition B.
Proposition B “set out minimum welfare standards” for dog breeders, the media release said, to “include the provision of clean water, veterinary care, nutritious food, space to move around, exercise, and other comforts including protection from extreme heat and cold.
“It will also limit the number of breeding dogs at each facility and requires that breeding females be limited to producing two litters in an eighteen month period,” Animal Defenders International said.
Assessed former Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian five years later, “Although the Missouri legislature and governor Jay Nixon weakened some of the key elements of the measure before it even had a chance to take effect, what remained intact still makes Missouri’s law one of the strongest anti-puppy mill statutes in the nation.”
Nancy Burnet and Bob Barker on October 1, 2000 reportedly “realized that five hens used in the just-completed CBS television series Big Brother would be out of work, so called CBS, asked for them, and got them.”
Though Bob Barker had already funded sending the Project X chimps to Primarily Primates, moving animals to sanctuaries had not before been a leading focus of Barker’s philanthropy.
After the hen rescue, it was.
Bob Barker took up the cause of captive elephants in 1999, testifying in September of that year before a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. in favor of a proposed bill to prohibit the use of elephants in traveling circuses.
The bill failed, but Bob Barker returned to elephant advocacy in February 2006, appearing before the Los Angeles city council to “ask, to beg you, to vote to release” the elephants Gita, Ruby, and Billy from the city-owned Los Angeles Zoo.
Gita died soon afterward.
Bob Barker put up $350,000 toward moving Ruby to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s Sanctuary in San Andreas, California. Los Angeles activist Patty Shenker pledged another $100,000, the late Gil Michaels put up $20,000, and the move was made.
More elephant campaigns
Bob Barker in 2008 offered $1.5 million to cover the cost of moving Billy to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary, but in January 2009 the Los Angeles city council voted 11-4 to build a $42 million new elephant habitat, rather than leave the zoo without any elephants.
Bob Barker meanwhile on August 27, 2007 donated $750,000 to relocate Maggie, the lone Alaska Zoo elephant, from Anchorage to the PAWS sanctuary in San Andreas, California. That move was completed on November 1, 2007.
On March 15, 2008, reported Los Angeles Times staff writer Tony Barboza, the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California, “canceled a controversial stunt in which artist Fan Yang was to surround an Asian elephant in a giant soap bubble,” after Bob Barker joined an In Defense of Animals protest against it.
Bob Barker was unsuccessful in campaigns to send an elephant from the Edmonton Zoo to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in 2009, and to retire a former circus elephant named Queenie to the PAWS sanctuary in 2010.
On December 17, 2011, however, Bob Barker funded the entire $880,000 cost of relocating the former Toronto Zoo elephants Toka, Thika, and Iringa to the PAWS sanctuary, after the relatively tiny organization Zoocheck Canada pledged to try to raise the money.
Cherokee bear pits
Alerted in 2009 by former Florida member of the U.S. House of Representatives Bill Young to the poor conditions endured by several bears exhibited by members of the Tribal Council for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Bob Barker offered to fund moving the bears to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary, but was rebuffed.
Bob Barker then called for a tourism boycott of the Eastern Band, and campaigned for North Carolina legislation to prohibit private wildlife exhibitions.
The three facilities in question were finally closed two years later. Eight black bears and three grizzly bears were sent to the International Exotic Feline Foundation sanctuary in Boyd, Texas. What became of the other bears is unclear.
Bob Barker had more immediate success in funding the May 2010 move to the PAWS sanctuary of four lion cubs from a Bolivian circus, after the Bolivian government, responding to a campaign orchestrated by Animal Defenders International, outlawed traveling animal exhibits.
“I am so impressed with Animal Defenders International that I am going to make another investment in their mind-boggling work,” Bob Barker announced in February 2011, introducing Operation Lion Ark.
This project evacuated 25 lions from small Bolivian traveling circuses to the Wild Animal Sanctuary, near Keenesburg, Colorado, using a chartered DC-10.
Another failure, though, was Bob Barker’s 2010 campaign, joined by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, asking SeaWorld to close all of their animal exhibition facilities and send the orcas, dolphins, seals, and sea lions to sanctuaries which did not exist either then or now.
In July 2011 the former Wild Animal Orphanage sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas went bankrupt. Most of the resident animals were moved to other sanctuaries, but five former laboratory chimpanzees who had been exposed to HIV infection were left with nowhere to go.
Bob Barker came to their rescue by donating $230,000 to Chimp Haven, in Shreveport, Louisiana, to build accommodations for them and fund their care for a year.
Bob Barker personally attended the chimps’ introduction to their new habitat.
“They came down the hill through the timber, some of them running on their hind legs. Just running,” Barker told media. “They were so happy. One climbed a tree clear to the top. They played with balls and they ate bananas. I had a lump in my throat. I almost burst into tears, I was so happy when I saw it.”
Wolf & wolfdog rescue
Also attending the introduction was Lockwood Animal Rescue Center & Sanctuary founder Lorin Lindner, who doubles as clinical psychologist for Clinica Sierra Vista Behavioral Health.
Recalled Lindner after Bob Barker’s death, “In the last 12 years, Mr. Barker and Ms. Burnet helped the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center & Sanctuary to rescue 27 wolves and wolfdogs from Alaska, assisted LARC in the purchase of over 3000 surrounding acres, helped to equip LARC’s full-service mobile veterinary trailer, provided funds to create our parrot sanctuary, and helped LARC in myriad other ways, all while helping thousands of other animals around the country.”
The Alaska wolf rescue came after Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in July 2011 shut down Wolf Country USA in Palmer, Alaska, because owner Werner Schuster, in business for 25 years, lacked a permit to keep wolves.
Such a permit had been mandated since 2002. Schuster argued unsuccessfully that all wolves are dogs and that therefore no special permits could be required.
Animal rights law
Bob Barker introduced his biggest philanthropic campaign, the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law, by donating $1 million to create an endowed chair for animal rights law at the University of California, Los Angeles campus.
Within a year the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law had also endowed chairs with $1 million each at the Duke University School of Law, Columbia Law School, and Stanford Law School.
Bob Barker had already endowed an animal rights law chair at Harvard, five years earlier, and went on to endow chairs for animal rights law at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the Georgetown University Law Center, and the University of Virginia.
Bob Barker then gave $1 million in February 2008 to his own alma mater, Drury University, to establish an undergraduate animal ethics program.
“It’s incredible that I ever was able to go back to Springfield and give them a million dollars,” Barker told Associated Press, “because when I was there, I didn’t have 15 cents.”
Bob Barker & Paul Watson
Recalled Paul Watson, a cofounder of Greenpeace USA, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1978, heading the Captain Paul Watson Foundation since being ousted from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in a 2022 hostile takeover, “In 2009, I was speaking at an Animal Rights gathering in Los Angeles when a woman approached me and handed me a note asking me to get in touch with Nancy Burnet about a possible donation. Nancy told me that she was representing someone who wanted to support our efforts to stop the Japanese whalers and would I like to meet him?
“I said of course,” Watson recounted, “and an appointment was made for me to meet this mysterious potential donor at the office of his agent, Henri Bollinger, in Los Angeles.
“To my great surprise the man who greeted me, whom I immediately recognized, was Bob Barker.”
Barker funded the acquisition of both a ship Watson named the Bob Barker, scrapped by the Sea Shepherds after the hostile takeover, and a helicopter named the Nancy Burnet.
Scrapping the Bob Barker, Watson said, “was not only a betrayal of the ship and myself, but also a betrayal of Bob Barker the man.”
Bob Barker & SHARK
Bob Barker, also in 2009, donated $1 million to the ongoing Showing Animals Respect & Kindness campaign to stop pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness used some of the funding to acquire a boat named the Bob & Nancy, used to observe shoots at the Philadelphia Gun Club from the Delaware River, later used to videotape cormorant culls on the Great Lakes and at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Later in 2009 Bob Barker joined Farm Sanctuary in a successful campaign to pass a California law prohibiting dairy farmers from docking cows’ tails.
Bob Barker in March 2010 contributed a recipe for “Meatout Enchiladas” to the Great American Meatout campaign, sponsored by the Farm Animal Rights Movement.
In August 2010 Bob Barker joined Mercy For Animals in a campaign asking Costco to stop selling veal.
Steadily broadening his focus both in personal animal advocacy and in philanthropy, Bob Barker in October 2011 donated to large truck to the Save Elephant Foundation of Thailand to help deliver food to stranded animals during catastrophic flooding, in particular several hundred monkeys who sought refuge at a Buddhist monastery.
A busy month of November 2011 included a visit to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to lobby for passage of a bill to restrict the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses; Bob Barker’s ninth appearance on the nationally syndicated Animal Radio program, when he discussed his last of several pet rabbits, mentioning that his maid Mercedes “built a room for the bunny, but I just let him have the run of the second floor,” where “He chews up everything”; and opposing a deer cull in Rockville, Maryland.
Joining People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in January 2012 in a campaign already three years old against the use of cats by medical students practicing intubation technique at the University of Virginia, Bob Barker offered to donate high-tech mannequins for use in place of the cats.
“Soon after, the school removed animal training from a certification course for outside medical professionals based on guidelines from the American Heart Association,” reported Jim Salter of Associated Press.
However, “Emergency transport teams and medical students continued using nine cats in the school’s lab to practice breathing tube placement until 2016,” Salter added.
Bob Barker, after amicably retiring from hosting The Price is Right in 2007, split with his successors after The Price is Right prize lineup on February 1, 2012 included an expense-paid trip to the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.
“I would like very much to see them celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede by saying that is enough animal cruelty,” Bob Barker told Canadian Press. “Let’s wind it up and close it down.”
Marineland of Canada
Bob Barker in March 2012 donated $2.5 million to help People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals renovate a Los Angeles office building that became the PETA west coast headquarters.
Toward the end of 2012 Bob Barker joined a long-running Canadian campaign against marine mammal captivity for exhibition that brought a partial victory in 2019 with the passage of a law prohibiting capturing marine mammals for show.
About sixty marine mammals already kept at various Canadian exhibition venues, however, 57 of them at Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, were exempted.
Opposed rhino trophy auction
Bob Barker then joined a PETA campaign in opposition to the “Possum Drop” held each New Year’s Eve in Brasstown, North Carolina, at which an opossum in a box is lowered to the ground at the stroke of midnight in a parody of the glittering ball drop that marks New Year’s Eve in New York City. That campaign ended with the passage of state legislation making the “Possum Drop” explicitly legal.
Bob Barker in 2013-2014 made headlines chiefly for opposing a variety of legislation introduced in Nebraska, Idaho, and other states to try to thwart undercover investigation of factory farms and other animal use industry facilities.
Having said relatively little against hunting over the years, Bob Barker also challenged the Dallas Safari Club for auctioning off the right to shoot a rhinoceros who had become too old to breed.
“This seems like a rather harsh way of dealing with senior citizens,” said Barker, then 90.
In his later years Bob Barker was generally quieter, but donated $70,000 in two installments, the last received in 2019, to the Companion Animal Protection Society in support of investigations of puppy mills.