More than man’s best friend
TV’S dog whisperer takes a new lease on life, writes
VERY soon, Cesar Millan will have a new television show, a book, a tour, a documentary and, if she says yes, a fiancee. The year ends on a high note for Millan as he winds up as TV’s Dog Whisperer and bounces back from a suicide attempt in May 2010, that left him unconscious and in hospital.
In Cesar Millan: The Real Story, he talks for the first time about the overdose. The documentary airs in the US next week ahead of a global speaking tour.
‘‘It’s rare when someone with his level of celebrity is willing to completely open up and share the struggle and hardship it took to find success and happiness,’’ says Geoff Daniels, executive vice president and general manager of Nat Geo Wild.
‘‘Cesar doesn’t hold anything back and I’m certain our audience will feel even closer to him for it.’’
The 43-year-old Mexican-born dog handler rose to fame in 2004 when his first TV series, The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, became National Geographic’s top-rated show.
Millan grew up in Culiacan, the largest city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa and worked on his grandfather’s farm in the hope of becoming the best dog trainer in the world. At 21, alone and unable to speak English, he crossed the border and lived on the streets for two months before getting a job as a groomer and walker.
Jada Pinkett (pre-Will Smith) hired him and got him an English tutor when she learned he wanted to be on TV. As his popularity grew, his professional and personal lives appeared rosy. He became an author, made appearances in movies and on television, and his wife gave birth to two sons.
In 2010 though, things took a tumble. His pitbull, Daddy, died in February; a month later, he learned his wife of 16 years planned to divorce him and in May, he attempted suicide.
‘‘I felt defeated, a big sense of guilt and failure . . . I was at the lowest level I had ever been emotionally and psychologically,’’ he wrote on his website in June, without mentioning his overdose.
He rejected antidepressants, choosing instead to get a grip through his pack dog wisdom and use exercise, discipline and affection to heal. Another pitbull trained by Daddy has taken over but Junior will never take his place.
A new love in his life also helped. Millan calls Jahira Dar ‘‘the one’’ and she lives with him and his youngest son in Los Angeles. He plans to propose soon.
‘‘It’s a surprise,’’ he jokes. ‘‘I am a traditional guy, so I like to do the whole parent thing. I know they are going to say yes, but I like the whole Cinderella story.’’
Besides meeting Dar, constant work also helped him turn it around, said Millan, who describes himself as a punctual workaholic who delegates chores and seldom cracks a smile.
He runs a rehab complex, the Dog Psychology Center, at a ranch in Santa Clarita, a magazine and a philanthropic foundation, and sells his own line of dog products and instructional CDs and DVDs. His seventh book, A Short Guide to a Happy Dog, is due out on January 1, and Nat Geo Wild will premiere Leader of the Pack, in the US on January 5. Dog Whisperer ended its run in the US on September 15.
The new series, filmed in Spain, aims to increase pet rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming around the world.
Millan has never met a dog he didn’t like and chose a canine as his lone companion for a hypothetical stranding on a deserted island. He defends his love for pitbulls, saying: ‘‘It’s not the breed, it’s the human behind the dog.’’
Rehabbing dogs is easy, he says. Training people is not.
‘‘A dog would never see me as a Mexican or immigrant or think things people say about me. Dogs don’t rationalise. They don’t hold anything against a person. They don’t see the outside of a human but the inside.’’