How Bob Barker’s Wife Inspired His Animal Advocacy

Bob Barker started telling viewers of ‘The Price Is Right’ to spay and neuter their pets in 1979, and it quickly became part of the game show’s brand.
Responsible pet owners should follow his advice.
Responsible pet owners should follow his advice. / Lumeimages/GettyImages

The contestants, products, and prizes on The Price Is Right vary by episode, but Bob Barker made sure the long-running game show always ends the same way. The beloved host reminded viewers to have their pets spayed or neutered before signing off. Though the call to action had nothing to do with the price of laundry detergent, it quickly became part of the show’s brand. Since his death in August 2023, Barker is remembered as much for his animal advocacy as he is for his television career, and his dedication to the former was largely thanks to his wife.

Barker began hosting The Price Is Right in 1972, and according to The Mercury News, he didn’t adopt his signature slogan until the end of the decade after learning more about animal rights issues through his partner. “Dorothy Jo was before her times as far as animals were concerned,” he said in an interview for the Television Academy Foundation in 2000. “We started talking more about it, and I became more concerned about animals. I had always loved animals, and I contributed financially to animal-oriented organizations, but I had never participated.”

Barker followed his wife’s example by becoming a vegetarian, and in 1979 he became the honorary chairman of “Be Kind to Animals” week in Los Angeles. That same year, he began reminding viewers to sterilize their cats and dogs. The U.S. was struggling with an overpopulation of unwanted pets at the time, and many of them ended up in shelters where they were eventually put down. Before “spay and neuter” became a common mantra, the medical procedures were not common; euthanizing stray animals was standard. According to estimates from the Humane Society, a quarter of all dogs in the U.S. were living on the streets by 1970, and 13.5 million unwanted animals were euthanized each year.

The picture looks much brighter today. Around 6.3 million animals enter the pet shelter system annually, and fewer than a million of them are euthanized. Though it’s impossible to say how many lives Barker can be credited with saving, the decline of the stray pet population is largely due to the spay and neuter campaign he helped promote.

Bob Barker retired from hosting The Price Is Right in 2007, but his legacy lives on. When Drew Carey filled the host position, he continued using the sign-off his predecessor was known for. Barker also made an impact behind the scenes. His animal-focused philanthropy included a $1 million donation to Columbia Law School to fund the study of animal rights.