The story of Cesar Millan is often seen as a typical rags to riches tale about a young
man from Mexico crossing the border in pursuit of the American dream.
While that's more or less how things happened, the reality of Millan's eventful life is a
little more complicated.
While Millan became known to millions of viewers worldwide as the Dog Whisperer, his off-camera
life has been anything but quiet.
He was bullied for his love of dogs
Millan grew up on his grandfather's farm in Sinaloa, in northwestern Mexico.
During this time he became accustomed to working with a variety of animals, though he claims
to have had a "natural way with dogs" from a very young age.
This connection with canines was so strong that MIllan found himself being followed by
dogs every time he left his home, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by the other kids.
He was constantly teased by his peers, who started calling him El Perrero, which, according
to Millan, roughly translates to "the Dirty Dog Boy."
Millan refused to let bullying change his mind about his love of dogs.
Instead, he concentrated on making his dream a reality from a young age.
By the time he was 13 years old he had laid out plans to become the best dog trainer in
the world — and he'd decided that the best place to begin his takeover was the US.
Inspired by the immaculately well-trained performing dogs he saw in TV reruns of Lassie
and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Millan set his sights on Hollywood, convinced his
talents would be most welcome there.
He entered the US illegally
In 1991, Millan made his way from his home to a Tijuana bus station with $100 to his
name, seeking transportation across the border.
When he finally found a way out of Mexico via a hole in the border fence, he was forced
to pay $100 — every cent he had — in order to pass through.
Millan entered the United States with no money, no friends, little to no knowledge of the
English language, and nowhere to live.
He spent his early days in America living homeless on the streets of San Diego, sleeping
under a freeway and surviving on nothing but convenience store hot dogs.
Millan recalled that he could get two hot dogs for 99 cents at the time, meaning all
he had to do to survive was somehow make a dollar a day.
Many hot dogs later, he managed to land his first real job Stateside.
He found work as a dog groomer
Using the first English sentence he ever learned …
"I learned to say "do you have application for work?"
That was the first sentence I'm gonna learn."
… Millan managed to arrange some part-time hours in a local dog groomer's office.
The owners were instantly impressed with his assertive handling of larger, aggressive dogs
that had previously been impossible to control.
Millan saw the value in this and, after moving to Inglewood, decided to start charging for
a group dog-walking service.
He quickly attracted attention with his unusual — and very much illegal — style of walking
his group off leash, quickly earning a reputation as "the Mexican guy who can walk a pack of
Some of his first clients were Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, who paid for Millan to have
a year of English language lessons.
His reputation grew quickly
Millan and his dog-walking business spread like wildfire by word of mouth, and he eventually
earned enough money to open his Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles.
His success at rehabilitating dogs with particularly troublesome pasts lead to him being profiled
in a 2002 edition of the L.A. Times, and the reaction was huge.
The story led a string of producers to his door hoping to create a new TV show highlighting
Millan's techniques, and the trainer signed on to front Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan
The National Geographic Channel ended up picking up the show for 26 episodes after Animal Planet
refused to commit beyond a pilot.
He has been involved in a number of lawsuits
Things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows for Millan, however.
" … it's alright, it's alright."
The Dog Whisperer star was the subject of two lawsuits in a single week in 2006, the
first involving his former publicist Makeda Smith and her partner Foster Corder.
The couple claimed that they had come up with the name "Dog Whisperer" while in discussion
After they received no recognition of their contribution they decided to sue the National
Geographic Channel, asking for $5 million in damages.
Millan was in hot water again days later when 8 Simple Rules producer Flody Suarez claimed
that his five-year-old Labrador retriever Gator was subjected to inhumane treatment
at the celebrity trainer's facility.
Suarez's lawsuit stated that Gator was covered with bruises and gasping for breath after
being forced to run on a treadmill.
The producer went on to describe how a choke chain had caused damage to Gator's esophagus
and that surgery was needed to correct it, with the vet's bills totaling more than $25,000.
He has been accused of animal cruelty
"Cesar Millan … AKA the dog whisperer, is under fire, for of all things, animal cruelty."
The incident with Gator the Labrador is not the only allegation of animal cruelty Millan
American Humane, the oldest national organization specializing in the protection of animals,
revealed they had sent a letter to the National Geographic Channel in 2006.
The letter in question expressed outrage about the "inhumane" and "potentially harmful" tactics
employed on Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.
Other critics of Millan's methods include certified animal behavior consultant and pet
journalist Steve Dale, who refers to Millan as the "Dog Screamer," along with British
television personality Alan Titchmarsh, who berated Millan over his "barbaric" techniques
during an interview on his afternoon TV show.
He hit hard times in 2010
2010 was a terrible year for Millan, starting off in the worst possible way when his sidekick
Daddy died of cancer at the age of 16.
"He helped me for 16 years.
You know I don't think I did much for him, as much as he did for me."
The gentle giant, whom he'd adopted from rapper Redman, was not just Millan's assistant on
the show — he was his best friend off camera.
Sadly, Milan barely had time to mourn the loss when he was hit with more bad news.
The following month, his wife of 16 years informed him she had filed for divorce.
Millan was forced to assess his finances, and that was when the third blow came: He
soon realized that, despite being one of the most recognizable TV personalities in America,
he'd made a series of bad business decisions that had left him with little to show for
his nationwide fame.
He tried to end it all
In 2012, Millan opened up about the full extent of what he'd gone through two years earlier.
He claimed he'd lost his "source of calmness" when his beloved dog Daddy died, and the added
pressure of his divorce and financial woes sent him into a downward spiral of depression.
The famous trainer got to the point where he didn't want to be alive anymore, taking
what he described as "a whole bunch of pills" and hoping not to wake up.
Fortunately for Millan, his sons discovered him before it was too late and he was rushed
to the hospital.
He later talked about how regaining consciousness in a ward full of patients who loved his show
helped him to get back on track with his life.
He used his own methods to bounce back
Millan was offered antidepressants after he failed to take his own life, though he decided
that the best way to heal was to practice what he preached.
In place of pills, Millan devised a rehabilitation schedule based on his knowledge of pack life,
using exercise, discipline and affection to conquer his depression — and it seems to
have worked wonders.
His path led him to new partner Jahira Dar — whom Millan credits as being instrumental
in his recovery — along with a series of new opportunities in television.
He was soon back on small screens everywhere in Cesar Millan's The Leader of the Pack and
He's even branched out to younger audiences, working alongside his son Calvin in Nickelodeon's
live action series Mutt and Stuff.
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