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Bob Barker's little-known connection to a Manitoba animal rescue

Bob Barker poses for a photo on the set of "The Price is Right" after a special appearance that will celebrate his 90th birthday at CBS Studios, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP) Bob Barker poses for a photo on the set of "The Price is Right" after a special appearance that will celebrate his 90th birthday at CBS Studios, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

He was an iconic presence in television for more than half a century, beckoning countless viewers to “come on down.”

But it was Bob Barker’s work behind the scenes championing animal rights that led to the creation of Manitoba’s first and only black bear rescue.

Barker died Saturday at his Los Angeles home from natural causes. He was 99 years old.

Considered a household name in the entertainment industry, Barker was the affable host of “Truth or Consequences” and of course, “The Price Is Right.”

He retired in 2007.

But his animal rights advocacy didn’t slow down post-retirement.

In 2016, Judy Stearns and her husband Roger had a dream of setting up a black bear rescue on their property in Stonewall, Man.

The plan was to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned cubs until they reached about 36 kilograms, at which point they’d be released back into the wild.

Black bears Penny, Otto and Oswald are shown in a 2022 photo. They were found orphaned by Black Bear Rescue Manitoba and released back into the wild in the spring. (Source: Black Bear Rescue Manitoba)

To make it a reality, Stearns partnered with Zoocheck, a Canadian-based international wildlife protection charity.

Barker had been like a guardian angel to the organization for years. The former host, who used to remind viewers on “The Price Is Right” to have their pets spayed and neutered, led several initiatives with Zoocheck in an effort to free animals from captivity at Canada’s zoos.

Zoocheck campaigns director Julie Woodyer first told Barker about the black bear rescue, thinking it would be up his alley.

“He said, ‘I'd like to help with that,’” she recalled to CTV News Winnipeg by phone Monday.

In this Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 photo, retired game show host Bob Barker, a longtime animal rights advocate, holds his 8-year-old rabbit Mr. Rabbit at his home in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Woodyer called Stearns to give her the good news.

“He was 100 per cent behind it and fully on board, and he ended up gifting us $50,000 to start,” Stearns said.

The money bankrolled the construction of Black Bear Rescue Manitoba’s ‘Bear Building,’ which is used as a central control hub in the summer for all the bears who are being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild.

“That’s the building that Bob built,” Stearns said.

Stearns sadly never got to meet Barker and thank him for the generous donation.

However – they found another way to show their appreciation.

“We name our cubs alphabetically, and so for the letter B was a little female cub. It would have been better if it was a boy, but we named her Bobbi in honour of him.”

Stearns is now brainstorming a posthumous tribute to the late, great Barker.

Bob Barker is pictured with Zoocheck campaigns director Julie Woodyer in an undated photo. The late television host partnered with the charity on a number of initiatives, including years-long effort to move three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to a sanctuary in California. (Source: Julie Woodyer)

Woodyer, who is now also one of Black Bear Rescue Manitoba’s directors, worked closely with the television icon through her work with Zoocheck.

She remembers watching him stop to pose for a selfie with a fan in Edmonton at four in the morning before hopping on a flight home.

Woodyer told him she didn’t know how he was able to be so generous with the countless fans who approached him. She still remembers his answer.

“He said, ‘Look Julie, I got to give away televisions and refrigerators for a living, and there was no more fun job than that, and it was these very people that made that possible for me to have that great job, so I’m just grateful for them.”

In the wake of his death, Woodyer hopes Barker will be remembered as much for his work as a vocal animal rights advocate as for the many kitchen dinette sets he gave away and games of Plinko he led.

“He was an enormously generous person with his time, his celebrity voice but also his money.”

- With files from the Canadian Press Top Stories

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