By David Friend, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Television host Bob Barker charmed viewers on “The Price is Right,” but it’s his “strong voice for animals” that one Canadian wildlife advocate says will be irreplaceable.
Julie Woodyer, campaigns director at Zoocheck, knew Barker for years as they collaborated on both successful and failed efforts to free animals from captivity at Canada’s zoos.
She says Barker brought a determination and generosity that was unmatched by other celebrities, often opening his chequebook to support the cause and willingly making public appearances to raise awareness.
“I just can’t imagine there will be somebody to replace that ever,” Woodyer said in a phone interview.
Barker died on Saturday from natural causes at the age of 99.
Earlier in his career, he had established himself as a vocal advocate for animal rights, most famously with his “Price is Right” signoff where he reminded viewers to spay or neuter their pets. The message was aided by his own DJ&T Foundation, founded in 1995, which sought to reduce the overpopulation of domestic animals by lowering the cost of sterilization.
Woodyer first connected with the TV host and his partner Nancy Burnet over email in 2010 as Zoocheck — in co-operation with other animal rights organizations —attempted to free Lucy the elephant from the Edmonton Valley Zoo.
The presence of a U.S. celebrity was less welcome by some, including officials who bristled at the idea Barker should meddle in a local zoo’s efforts to keep its lone elephant in captivity.
In 2011, Barker appeared on CTV’s “Canada AM” morning show where he explained that elephants were not adapted to brave Canada’s harsh winter climate and Lucy’s health was deteriorating.
Stephen Mandel, mayor of Edmonton at the time, shot back at the retired Barker’s comments saying: “Maybe he needs a job.”
While the campaign to relocate Lucy was unsuccessful, Woodyer said a bond was formed with Barker over their shared interest in animal rights.
Together, they were involved in a controversial and years-long effort to move three elephants — Toka, Thika and Iringa — from the Toronto Zoo to a sanctuary in California. The campaign included Barker making public appearances and mingling with local city councillors to explain his view in hopes they would lend their support.
Ultimately, Barker donated $800,000 to the Peoples Animal Welfare Society for the successful transport and care of the animals.
“It would have been years and years for us to try to fundraise that,” Woodyer said, “And it would’ve been too late for some of those elephants.”
Barker later donated $50,000 to help build Manitoba’s first black bear cub rehabilitation centre.
“Lending his celebrity voice … really boosted those campaigns significantly and allowed us to have a broader audience,” Woodyer said.
“He was the funniest man I’ve ever met, extremely sharp, even in his very late years, and he could always come up with something funny, and make us all laugh even in the midst of difficult times in our campaigns.”