During Bob Barker's 35-year career hosting "The Price Is Right," he famously ended each show by reminding viewers to "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered." But his advocacy for animal welfare didn't stop there — behind the scenes, he also refused to give away any prizes linked to animal suffering.
"They wouldn't have even considered it when I was there," Barker tells MNN. "I had them take fur coats off the show. Game shows all gave away fur coats back then, but I don't think any game show gives away fur coats now. We didn't give away leather, that sort of thing. We didn't do anything that was harmful to animals."
But now, as "The Price Is Right" strives to remain popular following Barker's 2007 retirement, the former host says it has abandoned his animal-friendly ethos. A few weeks after the show gave away tickets to SeaWorld, a contestant on Wednesday's episode won a showcase that included rodeo tickets and leather boots. With prizes like these, Barker says, the price is animals' rights.
"I'd like to think that whoever is responsible for this didn't stop to think what they were doing, that they didn't know the reputation of this rodeo," he says. "It's animal cruelty, and a grisly form of it."
Barker says his concerns about the show began last month, when it gave away tickets to SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. SeaWorld has long been criticized by animal-rights groups, who say orcas and other marine mammals inevitably suffer in captivity.
"When I heard about that, I called the executive producer," Barker says. "I didn't get an answer, so I left a message. Then I called a producer — same thing. Then I called an executive with whom I'd worked, and she didn't return my call."
Frustrated, Barker released a public-service announcement with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urging his fans to avoid the "sad exhibits" at SeaWorld. "Life in cramped tanks is no prize for orcas and dolphins, who want to be free with their families in the ocean," he said in the PSA. "Many have died prematurely at SeaWorld after swimming in endless circles and performing dumb tricks day in and day out."
That might have been the end of it, if not for the showcase awarded on Wednesday's episode. The package of prizes, which totaled more than $25,000, included airfare to Calgary, a rental car, five days at a hotel, two days at the Calgary Stampede, tickets to the rodeo and chuckwagon races, six pairs of leather boots and a Toyota Tacoma.
Barker says he's troubled by the rodeo's "history of animals dying, and of animals being abused on a regular basis"; according to the CBC, eight horses died during its chuckwagon races in 2010 and 2011. But Barker's beef isn't just with the Stampede. "I'm opposed to rodeos in general," he tells MNN. "I'm opposed to circuses, dogfights, cockfights, bullfights — all forms of animal mistreatment and torture."
Still, his experience from the SeaWorld episode left him a little jaded. "So when I heard about this Calgary situation," he says, "I didn't even call." (Representatives from "The Price Is Right" didn't immediately respond to MNN's request for a comment.)
Instead, he's once again working with PETA to get his message out, giving "quite a few interviews" to reporters throughout the day Thursday. But while he expresses frustration with the show's producers, he is quick to say he doesn't blame current "The Price Is Right" host Drew Carey.
"Let me say this about Drew: I know Drew has an interest in animal welfare," Barker says. "When I first met him, the first thing he said to me was, 'Bob, I'm going to keep doing the spay-and-neuter thing.' And he has. This never would have been brought to me as a prize — people knew better. But Drew, I don't know if he could have stopped them from doing this, or if he even knew about this rodeo."
While Barker says he hasn't reached out to Carey yet, he does have a message for anyone mulling a trip to SeaWorld or a rodeo like the Calgary Stampede. "I'd say change your mind and go someplace else," he says. "By all means, don't even consider contributing financially to these places. They are both notorious."
And, asked if he has anything else to add, Barker offers a familiar 11-word farewell: "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered."
Check out Barker's PSA about SeaWorld below:
Also on MNN:
- Win a smart grid on 'The Price Is Right'
- Bob Barker creates animal advocacy fund
- Video: Bob Barker on saving the whales