More than man’s best friend

TV’S dog whis­perer takes a new lease on life, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - WEDNESDAY EXTRA - Sue Man­ning

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.’’

Ce­sar Mil­lan

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